Courtroom erupts in applause after Aly Raisman unloads on Larry Nassar and calls out USA Gymnastics

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

LANSING, Mich. — In the final moments before she was called to a courtroom podium, called to tell her story as a sexual abuse survivor, called to provide a victim impact statement, called to stare down the shell of the man who serially raped her, Aly Raisman took a slug of water, tapped some papers into order and stared directly ahead with her famed focus.

Ever the competitor. Ever the champion.

This was a humble courthouse on a cold gray day in mid-Michigan, far, far from Olympic glory, but this was the same person, this time with a cause far more important, far more pressing than some gymnastics hall in London or Rio.

And when Aly Raisman got to the microphone, got to glare at Larry Nassar, got her moment to speak and shine, she was more powerful than ever.

“Larry, you do realize that this group of women you heartlessly abused over a long period of time are now a force. And you are nothing,” Raisman said, firmly, sternly and directly at Nassar. “The tables have turned Larry. We are here. We have our voices. And we are not going anywhere.

“And now Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me.”

Nassar could only sit there and take it, his head often bowed, his eyes darting away or staring at his handcuffed wrists. The 54-year-old is already serving 60 years on a federal child pornography conviction. He faces 125 more here as part of a plea deal for molesting hundreds of girls.

He was once the omnipotent USA Gymnastics national team doctor, who used his position to sexually assault the most talented athletes to ever come through the system, ruining memories of lifelong dreams achieved. He further preyed on local athletes here in Lansing through his work at Michigan State University.

For USA Gymnastics, he enjoyed unfettered access and influence over young girls desperate to compete. His treatments were mandatory. When girls balked at getting them, he would tell coaches about their resistance, knowing, Raisman noted, how that would scare them into silence because the culture of elite, international gymnastics doesn’t have room for anything but compliance.

“Imagine how it feels to be an innocent teenager in a foreign country, hearing a knock on the door and it is you,” Raisman said. “I don’t want you to be there. But I don’t have a choice. … Lying on my stomach with you on my bed, insisting that your inappropriate touch would heal my pain. … You are so sick I can’t comprehend how angry I feel when I think of you.”

Victim and former gymnast Aly Raisman speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar. (REUTERS)
Victim and former gymnast Aly Raisman speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar. (REUTERS)

Raisman unloaded with a clear and unwavering voice. This was a force to be reckoned with, and as Nassar has showed over these four days thus far, he cowers when confronted.

He worked in the shadows. This is the spotlight.

Raisman, 23, was the 73rd victim to speak this week in front of Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina. Originally, 88 were expected and sentencing was scheduled for Friday afternoon. The number is now 120 and this will stretch into next week. Among those who didn’t decide to come forward until after this began was Raisman, who was so moved by others who’d come forward she knew she could overcome her fears.

Every voice here is important. Every voice here is significant. Every voice is another cry of truth and offers another knock at Nassar and the failures that allowed him to operate at USAG and Michigan State.

Many of those voices come through tears. They crack. They fight through fear and embarrassment. There is might in those, too. They come from girls and women and mothers and fathers and sisters who don’t have a closet full of gold medals.

Their impact is no less. Raisman wanted that made clear. So, too, did her 2012 Olympic teammate, Jordyn Wieber, a Lansing area native who came forward for the first time as a Nassar victim on Friday and addressed the court with her own intensity.

Yes, they were famous, they said. Yet, they were no different.

“Despite my athletic achievement I am one of 140 women and survivors whose story is important,” Wieber said. “All our pain is all the same. And our stories are all important.”

Raisman took time to address Nassar’s pitiful letter to the judge Thursday where he cited the toll listening to his victims was causing and questioning his “ability to be able to face witnesses these next four days.”

Victim and former gymnast Aly Raisman (R) embraces former USA teammate Jordyn Wieber (L) at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar. (REUTERS)
Victim and former gymnast Aly Raisman (R) embraces former USA teammate Jordyn Wieber (L) at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar. (REUTERS)

Aquilina was unmoved and mocked his feelings. Raisman doubled down to the delight of the packed courtroom.

“You are pathetic to think anyone would have any sympathy for you,” Raisman said. “You think this is hard for you? Imagine how all of us feel?”

Raisman didn’t contain her fire for Nassar. She went after USA Gymnastics and its failure to protect its athletes at all levels. She trotted out the organizations old, tired quotes about reform. She called out current USAG CEO Kerry Perry for leaving these hearings early. She blasted the USOC for not coming at all. She applauded the USAG’s decision to no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas for national team training because it is the site of so many of Nassar’s crimes. But then she noted kids were still training there as of Thursday, when the announcement was made.

This was a speech that would have fit on the floor of the U.S. Senate or behind a pulpit in a house of worship. Behind her, in the sad, solemn gallery she had a rapt audience, hanging on her every word, reveling in how Nassar appeared to get smaller and smaller each time Raisman turned to him and nodding with each callout of authority.

USA Gymnastics is the biggest disaster in sports, decades of rape occurring right under its nose. Four of the five members of its 2012 “Fierce Five” have come forward. Three of the five members of the 2016 “Final Five.” So many others. So many before. And so many at youth levels here and everywhere.

Yes, American gymnasts won and won and won. Those victories weren’t because of USA Gymnastics, though. They were in spite of it. Imagine how great Raisman or Wieber could have performed if they were actually getting legitimate medical attention and not nightly molestation sessions? Imagine if the organization was about empowering athletes not scaring them into submission?

“They have been very quick to capitalize on my success,” Raisman noted of USAG. “But did they reach out when I came forward? No.”

For Raisman, this is just the beginning. Nassar will rot in prison. She knows that. Her focus is on the USAG and USOC, and if there is one thing those organizations did help create, it’s a relentless force hellbent on holding them accountable. She noted that many USAG policies concerning sexual abuse came out of committees and panels that included Larry Nassar himself.

“This monster,” Raisman scowled in disbelief. “…For this sport to go on we need to demand real change. It’s clear now if we leave it up to these organizations history will repeat itself.”

Good luck to anyone in their way that doesn’t listen. Including Larry Nassar.

“I am here to face you Larry so you can see I have regained my strength,” Raisman said. “That I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. I am no longer that little girl.”

She soon looked at Aquilina.

“I ask you to give Larry the strongest possible sentence,” she said. “Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who would hurt anyone. Abusers, your time is up. Survivors are here, standing tall and we aren’t going anywhere.”

With that she was done. Done with the old, pathetic pedophile in front of her. Done with letting him have anything over her. And done with her remarks, although hardly the sentiments behind it.

With that, Aly Raisman, the great Aly Raisman exhaled.

The courtroom, as has become custom here, erupted in applause.

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