In recent years, the issue of sexual abuse has become a major topic of discussion in college sports. While some organizations have done an admirable job of protecting their athletes, others have suffered devastating scandals that have left victims feeling betrayed and unheard. This blog will explore sexual abuse scandals in college sports, discuss how they were allowed to happen and the repercussions that resulted.
The Dark Side of College Sports: Uncovering Sexual Abuse Scandals
Michigan State University
In 2018, Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics team doctor, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls under his care. Victims alleged that Nassar had been molesting them for decades without consequence, but it wasn't until 2016 that he was finally convicted due to the bravery of those who came forward. Despite multiple allegations against him since 1997, Nassar remained employed at Michigan State University until 2016, when he was fired after being arrested for sexual abuse and child pornography charges. In 2018, MSU agreed to pay $500 million to 332 survivors and set aside $75 million for claims in the future.
Ohio State University
Dr. Richard Strauss was a physician working at Ohio State University from 1978-1998 who is now known to have sexually abused numerous students during his tenure. In 2018, an independent investigation revealed that Strauss had committed acts of sexual misconduct (including inappropriate and prolonged genital examinations and showering with athletes) against at least 177 different male students over the course of 20 years. Complaints of Strauss' actions and behavior were known to the University as early as 1979. Strauss eventually killed himself in 2005 before legal action could be taken against him. OSU reached settlement agreements for $59.79 million to be split amongst 289 victims.
Pennsylvania State University
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse crimes in 2012 after it became clear he had been molesting boys for many years without anyone stopping him or raising any alarms. It wasn't until 2011, when one victim bravely came forward with their story, that other victims began speaking out about their experiences, and Sandusky was ultimately arrested and charged with his crimes. In 2019 victims who were assaulted by Sandusky were finally paid $118 million in damages for the trauma they endured.
University of Michigan
Former physician at the University of Michigan, Robert Anderson, was found to have sexually abused numerous students during his tenure from 1966 to 2003. The University conducted an investigation and concluded that Anderson had committed multiple acts of sexual misconduct, including inappropriate examinations and unnecessary touching, against at least 1,000 different people. Despite reports of Anderson's behavior as early as 1979, the university failed to take any action until after his death in 2008. The university ultimately paid out $460 million in damages to 1,050 survivors and set aside $30 million for future claims.
How Did These Happen For So Long?
Pressure from Administrations
One factor that contributed to this culture was pressure from athletic administrations and school boards. In many cases, complaints were either ignored or swept under the rug to protect the reputation of the school. There was also an unspoken understanding that certain schools were willing to turn a blind eye for their coaches and teams to remain competitive on a national level. This allowed predatory coaches to continue preying on vulnerable athletes with impunity for years.
Emotional abuse can manifest in manipulating victims into believing that their “consent” is genuine, coercing them through threats or criticism, or any other manipulation-based tactic. This emotionally abusive behavior can have profoundly damaging effects on an individual's mental health: they may become further isolated from support systems, feel guilt and shame that don't truly belong to them, and struggle with depression induced by the suppression of self-expression.
Failure to Perform Duty by Law Enforcement
Law enforcement has a duty to investigate and uphold criminal laws, yet in many cases of sexual abuse in college sports, law enforcement failed to adequately address the issue. This was particularly true in instances such as Larry Nassar's case – where multiple allegations were made against him over the course of decades, yet law enforcement failed to take action until it was too late.