JOEL FERGUSON, LOU ANNA SIMON AND RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER — MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY AND THE LARRY NASSAR FALLOUT
Ugh!! It’s gonna be another Penn State or Baylor thing, isn’t it?
It is. I know it.
I knew it.
When will it ever end?
Will it ever end???
Enough!! Enough already!!!
Larry Nassar is a convicted pedophile and a serial molester. The former USA Gymnastics national women’s team doctor and osteopathic physician at Michigan State University has been made to pay and pay he will.
His life on the outside is over. Forever.
The lives of his victims? We’ll see.
Lots of pain and torture. Mental anguish. Endless heartache. Broken dreams. Suicide.
Death by living…
And the pins are falling, one by one. There will be no (strewn) wood, to use a bowling reference. The waxed lanes will ultimately be cleared of all enablers of whom sadly there are so many.
The domino-effect is just beginning; the engine is not yet warm.
And that is frightening.
Rachael Denhollander batted leadoff and she hit in the ninth spot in the order as well.
She was one of the first ones he got his fingers and hands on and the last to make a victim impact statement in the courtroom presided over by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
Eighteen years ago when she was 15, Rachael Denhollander was molested by Dr. Larry Nassar, then an employee of MSU and until very recently the sports medicine doctor there.
Today the former gymnast who became a lawyer and is still involved with the sport as a youth coach is a household name — for all the wrong reasons.
She was the 156th woman to voice the horrific intensely personal, reprehensible and predatory behavior of Nassar — and willingly put her face to it.
She spoke for 36 minutes and when she was done the gallery gave her a standing ovation reserved for the exalted.
Aquilina, who cleared her docket for the sentencing procedure and might have sat on the bench in this sentencing hearing forever if necessary, dubbed Ms. Denhollander the “five-star general” of an army of abuse survivors.
The undaunted judge, sitting since 2004 and hardly unwilling to express her feelings, was spot-on with that characterization.
“You made this happen. You are the bravest person I’ve ever had in my courtroom,” she said with great admiration.
After a back injury she suffered as a club gymnast, Denhollander was referred to Nassar for treatment.
“He penetrated me, he groped me, he fondled me. And then he whispered questions about how it felt. He engaged in degrading and humiliating sex acts without my consent or permission.”
Vice-Chairman Joel I. Ferguson was elected to the Michigan State University Board of Trustees in 1986 and has been re-elected three times. He is the vice-chair of the Blue Cross Foundation, a co-founder of the F&S Development Company and the developer of 14 multi-family residential complexes throughout Michigan.
A founder of two Lansing television stations, Ferguson was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the board of directors of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac).
He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a 1965 graduate of MSU.
Commenting to a radio station last week that university President Lou Anna Simon, who has since resigned, wasn’t going anywhere was bad enough.
But his remark that, “There’s so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing,” was the coup de grace.
That is perhaps until, amid making apologies for his misstatements, he volunteered that the people who were likely to file suit would sue those with the deepest pockets, namely MSU.
Ferguson’s response when queried was in the form of a tacit though somewhat convoluted denial.
“I don’t remember saying that, and I sure didn’t mean to say it that way.”
[Either you said it or you didn’t].
As for his unthinkable and inexcusable reference to “this Nassar thing,” it became painfully prudent to have a statement issued on Ferguson’s behalf provided by Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a public relations specialist and state Senate candidate, rather than have him further muddy the waters already swirling wildly around his ears.
“Joel deeply regrets the inadvertent comment he made on a local radio program that trivialized the experience of the victims of Larry Nassar. He recognizes the suffering of these young women and had intended to refer to it as ‘the Nassar tragedy.’ Mr. Ferguson deeply regrets his comment and apologizes to those he offended.”
In the same radio interview Ferguson laughingly brushed aside the notion that the NCAA might investigate Michigan State as a result of the Nassar controversy.
“For what?” he asked, scoffing at the comparison made between the Nassar situation and the Penn State sex-abuse scandal.
“This is not Penn State…There’s a lot of noise out there. It’s hard to pick out what people want to hear right now.”
[Wow!!! “Pick out what people want to hear?” Really?]
The New York Times reported the next day that the NCAA had sent the university a letter of inquiry which officially opens an investigation.
According to Ferguson, Lou Anna Simon is — now was — the best President Michigan State University has had in his thirty years as a trustee and “the best president [MSU’s] ever had.”
To Ferguson, it’s all about the Benjamins. The school’s bottom line is and always will be the trump card. And Simon’s hand claimed the pot because the university thrived financially under her watch. She was an accomplished fundraiser.
Notes Ferguson — once again involuntarily tasting his footwear — “When you go to the basketball game, you walk into the new Breslin, and the person who hustled and got all those major donors to give money was Lou Anna Simon.”
He then added weakly, “There’s just so many things that make up being a president at a university that keeps everything moving and everything right with the deans, everything at a school where we have a waiting list of people, of students who want to come.”
If that ignorance and arrogance wasn’t revealing enough, Ferguson maintained that not only should Simon keep her job — and would — but that nobody in a senior leadership position at MSU should be held accountable for Larry Nassar’s outrageous sexual abuse because he was a “pervert” and was “on an island by himself.”
Certainly gravely ill, a terribly sick and twisted serial predator, but as an MSU employee, not ‘by himself.’
He was subject to annual reviews conducted by his superiors as both a team doctor in the athletic department as well as an associate professor who taught students within the university’s Division of Sports Medicine and College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The superiors to whom Ferguson referred were the same ones who were made aware of numerous complaints lodged against Nassar dating back as far as 1997 and still allowed him to continue seeing patients one-on-one during ongoing internal and criminal investigations.
They all, including Simon, turned a blind eye.
They did nothing when they could have done the right thing by stepping up immediately upon being apprised of the allegations.
In an eye-popping and bewildering encapsulation Ferguson reiterated that Simon’s ability to raise money and expand MSU’s donor base shouldn’t be overshadowed by the sweeping coverage of this horrific tragedy.
He punctuated his remarks with yet another out-of-touch and disjointed observational opinion.
“I think the young ladies who have been wronged by this person, I think in the case there will be a — you can never use money to completely make over people’s pain and suffering, but there’s going to be something happen in their favor. I think when people find out this person was on an island by himself, I think they’ll move and we’ll keep the university moving with the president we have, who will continue to do a great job…What she’s done for this university, she’s not going to get run out of here by something someone else did.”
Contrast this last statement with something Denhollander said when assessing the cost of speaking out.
“Fear of jeopardizing some overarching political, religious, financial or other ideology — or even just losing friends or status — leads to willful ignorance of what is right in front of our own eyes, in the shape and form of innocent and vulnerable children. Ask yourself: How much is a child worth?”
I suspect that Ferguson would be dumbfounded by that rhetorical question.
The reverberations of this seismic and cataclysmic event will continue to rumble and resound, roiling the campus of Michigan State University.
The ripples in the pond spread far and wide.
Simon is gone. Athletic Director Mark Hollis stepped down. Head women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages retired about a year ago, one day after the university suspended her, and hours after a second woman declared in court documents that Klages urged her to remain silent and not report her concerns about Nassar.
The USOC ordered the Board of Directors of USA Gymnastics to resign in toto, effective January 27, 2018.
Trailing tentacles have reached and grabbed onto the MSU football and basketball programs with multiple gang rape accusations being investigated; head coaches Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo respectively are under fire.
What do they know, what did they know and when did they know it?
And how did Izzo’s former team captain and coaching protege Travis Walton repeatedly skate from the law?
Why did Izzo retain him after Walton was criminally charged on more than one occasion?
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette who is rumored to be a candidate for governor, sent a letter to the Secretary of the MSU Board of Trustees dated 01/27/2018 that a formal investigation will officially be opened and that the university’s total compliance and transparency is mandated by law.
Many, many more questions will be asked; questions which demand honest answers at any cost.
After all, just what are human lives worth?
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in January 2018.]
In July 2017 Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. On January 24, 2018 he was sentenced to 175 years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors. And on February 5, 2018 he was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to another three counts of sexual assault. His state prison sentences are to run consecutively with his federal sentence.
Joel Ferguson stepped away from his post on the MSU Board of Trustees’ Presidential Search Committee in January 2019. It was widely thought that his next move should be to resign from the school’s Board of Trustees altogether, a position he has held since 1986.
Lou Anna Simon resigned as president of MSU on January 24, 2018. Following her resignation, Simon’s contract allowed for a 12-month research leave at her full presidential salary, after which she could officially assume her faculty position in the department of educational administration.
On November 20, 2018 Simon was charged with two felonies and two misdemeanor counts for lying to the police about her knowledge of sexual abuse committed by Nassar. MSU interim president John Engler announced that Simon would be taking an immediate leave of absence from the university, without pay.
[On August 4, 2020 a Michigan judge sentenced Kathie Klages to 90 days in jail for lying to police during an investigation into the sexual assaults of Nassar. She received 18 months’ probation in addition to the jail time. Klages is credited with one day of time served.]