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I've conducted somewhere around 10,000 interviews in my 40 years as a journalist, but one in particular has been on my mind lately.
It was my Sept. 12, 2016, face-to-face meeting with longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first -- and still the only -- journalist to interview Nassar about the sexual abuse allegations against him. I was part of The Indianapolis Star investigative team that first exposed Nassar's crimes in a story published the next day.
The 54-year-old physician, who also worked at Michigan State University, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years to 175 years in prison. And they won't even begin until he completes a 60-year sentence handed down last month in a federal child porn case.
Nassar came to our attention on Aug.4, 2016. That was the day we published a story revealing USA Gymnastics officials kept sexual abuse complaint files on scores of coaches, but failed to report many of those allegations to law enforcement. It was part of an internal executive policy.
Among the many gymnasts who contacted us in the following days were three who wanted to discuss a "treatment" they received from Nassar as minors struggling with sports injuries. Looking back now, the young women told us, they were convinced they had been sexually assaulted.
Hearing their remarkably similar accounts, we set out to see whether there was something to the story. My job was to learn about Nassar's alleged use of an invasive, intravaginal procedure, then try to interview him.
"He adamantly denies any wrongdoing. He adamantly denied any intravaginal examinations, and he's never had any type of an exam or procedure done on a minor without the mother present," Nassar's lawyer, Matthew Borgula, told me as we made arrangements.
Months later, Nassar would plead guilty to penetrating underage athletes. And testimony last week revealed he often treated girls alone in hotel rooms and training rooms.
'Caring miracle worker'
The Nassar I encountered in 2016 wasn't the broken man the world saw in the courtroom, head down, as dozens of victims described how his abuse ripped apart their innocent young lives. He was not the same man who complained to the judge about the emotional distress he felt listening to them.
I saw the confident Larry Nassar, buoyed by a reputation as a caring miracle worker. I saw the charismatic doctor with a legion of adoring supporters. I saw a master manipulator who had convinced police and university officials that earlier complaints were misunderstandings -- and went on molesting young girls.
At times in the roughly 30 minutes we were together, he came off almost arrogant. That was particularly true as he tried to convince me the "misunderstanding" was the result of the women's ignorance of his sophisticated medical work. His demeanor wasn't surprising. Nassar was revered in gymnastics and highly regarded internationally as a sports medicine physician.
But at times I picked up a different vibe. When we first met, Nassar essentially pleaded that we not write a story. He even indicated he could provide dirt on USA Gymnastics officials. Faced with a question, he would stammer. His eyes fluttered. Still, I chalked up his odd countenance to the difficult circumstances. I was nervous, too. There I was, telling a physician with an unblemished reputation that we were about to publish a story making serious, criminal allegations.
Rattled by lawsuit
When we met at Borgula's office, Nassar had a stack of medical books, magazines and a laptop. Before agreeing to answer questions on the record, Nassar asked to show me a video. He said it was one of many he had made for training purposes. He said he hoped it would help me better understand the medical procedure the three women had misconstrued as a sexual assault.
The video focused on the backside of what appeared to be a young girl. She was lying down, wearing underwear. Nassar worked his hand between her legs, massaging the girl's buttocks and inner thighs. His hands slowly worked deeper into her crotch, but I never saw any penetration.
Nassar appeared at ease as he started to explain what he was doing. But we were interrupted when my phone pinged with a text message that would end up derailing the interview.
My colleagues' text confirmed a lawsuit had been filed against Nassar in California. I felt I had an ethical duty to tell the doctor and Borgula. With this new development, I asked, did they want to continue with the interview?
Borgula asked for a copy of the lawsuit. I forwarded him a copy one of my colleagues had sent to me. Nassar and his attorney then left the interview room to review the new allegations from a former Olympian.
I waited alone for about 15 minutes before they returned. Although the victim was identified only as Jane Doe, the background in the court record about her Olympic involvement was enough for them to know who she was. Nassar said he couldn't believe the woman would make such allegations. He said he had a plaque in his office that she sent him as a thank-you gift after the 2000 Olympics.
Borgula and Nassar parted ways soon afterward. The split came after authorities found 37,000 images of child pornography at Nassar's home.
As I gathered my notebook and recorder, it was clear the lawsuit rattled Nassar. His eyes were watery and he was trembling. My last memory of the encounter was him pleading for me to be fair and to consider the harm a story could do to his reputation and family.
Tim Evans is an investigative reporter at The Indianapolis Star, where this first appeared.
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