Former U.S. champion Mattie Larson calls for stricter mandatory reporting laws
LANSING, Mich. -- Former U.S. national champion gymnast Mattie Larson called on House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday to push through a proposed law that would stiffen mandatory reporter laws for U.S. amateur athletic organizations.
Larson detailed the abuse she received while competing for the U.S. gymnastics team during the sentencing hearing of convicted serial sexual predator Larry Nassar. She saw Nassar -- formerly the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics -- for several injuries, and no matter the part of her body that was injured, the disgraced doctor would find a way to abuse her, she said.
"No matter what Larry was supposed to be treating on me -- usually ankles or knees -- his fingers always seemed to find their way inside me," Larson said.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina announced Tuesday that Nassar will be sentenced on Wednesday after she hears a few more victim statements.
Larson and other gymnasts met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and sat in on a session with the Senate Judiciary Committee last year to discuss the culture within USA Gymnastics that allowed for a long history of abuse. From that meeting, Feinstein and others in the Senate drafted a bill to make it mandatory for amateur athletic organizations such as USA Gymnastics to report any allegations of sexual assault immediately to law enforcement. The bill also aims to create a method for all youth athletes in those organizations to bring allegations of abuse to an independent entity that would not have any potential conflicts of interest in reporting a potential crime.
The Senate passed a revised bill in November, which is awaiting approval in the House of Representatives. A spokeswoman from Feinstein's office said they expect that vote will come in the next couple of weeks. It will need a two-thirds majority in order to pass an expedited process to becoming law.
Larson said USA Gymnastics made a positive step last week when it announced it would be closing the Karolyi Ranch, the training camp run by Bela and Marta Karolyi in Texas where the country's top young gymnasts trained. Larson said the isolation and conditions at the camp made it "a perfect environment for abusers and molesters to thrive."
"Today I call on Speaker Paul Ryan to schedule this for a vote immediately," Larson said while addressing the Lansing, Michigan, courtroom. "It's not only about switching to a better location. We must ensure that ample steps are made to prevent anything of this nature and magnitude from happening again."
USA Gymnastics also announced earlier this week that three members of its executive board were resigning and that John Geddert, a prominent coach based in central Michigan, has been suspended. Geddert told members of his gym on Tuesday that he plans to retire.
Larson said she was terrified of visiting the Karolyi Ranch, where she says Nassar sexually abused her. She remembered once trying to fake a concussion -- banging her head into the back of the bathtub at her family's house to create a bump -- in order to avoid going to a camp there.
Several prominent former gymnasts have spoken or submitted statements during Nassar's sentencing hearing in the past week. Three-time national champion Jessica Howard submitted a letter to the court Tuesday. Last week, Jamie Dantzscher, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber appeared in court and McKayla Maroney provided a written statement. They are among the 158 young women and girls who are scheduled to address the court and the man they say abused them as part of his plea deal.
Raisman tweeted her support to Larson on Tuesday.
Many of those who have spoken in the past six days of impact statements say that Nassar used his connection with Olympians and national team members -- heroes for many young gymnasts -- to impress them. He often gained their trust by providing them with gifts from international competitions or autographed items from the stars he purported to be healing.
Isabell Hutchins brought a box full of old gifts from Nassar to court Tuesday. Hutchins was an elite-level gymnast at Twistars, a gym in Dimondale, Michigan, where Nassar has admitted to abusing young girls. She read aloud a note from Nassar that ended with "love you, girl" and then went on to describe the way he abused her starting when she was 10 years old. Hutchins said she wonders whether Nassar misdiagnosed some of her injuries to keep seeing her on a frequent basis. She said she had lower leg pain in 2011 and Geddert, the owner of Twistars, told her to see Nassar and didn't allow her to get a second opinion from a different physician. Nassar told her she was healthy enough to continue training.
She was kicked out of practice a month later because she was having trouble walking. She went to the emergency room that day, and X-rays revealed she had been practicing with a broken leg.
"It looked like an ax splitting a piece of wood," Hutchins said of the X-ray. "So for over a month I practiced, competed and made it to nationals on a broken leg because Larry Nassar said there was nothing wrong. ... Am I still having pain today because my doctor was more concerned with sexually abusing me than he was about my physical health?"
Hutchins said she and her family helped Nassar save boxes of memorabilia and other items when his basement flooded when she was a young girl. Years later, when she was trying to stem the pain from her undiagnosed broken leg, Nassar invited her to the same basement where he would massage her, which "consisted of his bare hands running across my private areas," she said.
Hutchins said her time as a Twistars gymnast was the worst period of her life. As she walked away from the podium after delivering her statement, Hutchins dumped the box full of notes and gifts from Nassar into a courtroom trash bin.