Northern Ireland: A Game of Thrones and Boxty Adventure

This spring we had the opportunity to spend two days (not nearly enough time) in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is amazing and you have to visit the coast if you have the chance.

Because we were limited for time, we mainly stayed in Belfast and then traveled the coast on a Game of Thrones tour. Nerdy, I know, but this tour was awesome in that we were able to see a ton of beautiful sites while also learning more about their significance in filming the HBO show.

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Get ready for ALL the GOT themed gifs. #sorrynotsorry

Where are we?

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We flew into Dublin and took the short (roughly an hour and a half) bus ride to Belfast. Northern Ireland was divided from Southern Ireland (now known as the Republic of Ireland) on May 3rd, 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Although the purpose of the act was to create two self-governing bodies in Ireland (while still remaining in the United Kingdom) the War of Independence in 1922 and the Anglo-Irish Treaty resulted in the political division between the North and South. Today, Northern Ireland remains a part of the UK, while Southern Ireland (Irish Free State) is now the sovereign Republic of Ireland and is independent of the United Kingdom.

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Belfast City Hall is located in Donegall Square, Belfast

Belfast (derived from the Irish word Béal Feirsde) is the capital city of Northern Ireland and means “rivermouth of the soundbanks”. Located on the River Lagan, it is also the largest city in Northern Ireland (second largest on the entire island) and played a large role during the industrialization period, mainly producing linens, rope, and ship-building (including the RMS Titanic). During the 1970s, the city suffered some of the worst damages during the civil unrest known as the Troubles, a period of time named for the conflict between the Catholic (“Republican”) and Protestant (“Loyalists”) populations in Ireland. The political violence during this time resulted in bombings and deaths across Belfast.

The Sites: 

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One of the views from Dunluce Castle

With essentially a day and a half to see ALLTHETHINGS, we really struggled with how we could most efficiently spend our time experiencing the coast and if possible, see where some of the GOT scenes were filmed.

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Me. Always? Probably always.

After deciding that we didn’t want to rent a car for a day to drive on the left side of the road (nope) around cliffs (double nope), we determined that a day trip to the coast would be the best option. We booked with Game of Thrones Tours, which I highly recommend. We paid £50/each for all-day transportation and a tour; it was awesome to be able to just sit back and enjoy Northern Ireland. Even if you haven’t seen the show, I would still consider the tour because the sites were great and the commentary was a lot of fun. While I’ve seen all the episodes and am a fan of the show, I only recently got into the story; unlike Chris who single-handedly won the trivia contest in the van on the way back to Belfast (because of course).

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Our tour guide.

Our tour guide was AMAZING and has been an extra on the show multiple times. When I saw him I said, “Wow he looks like Davos!” only to find out he is also Ser Davos’ stand-in. He was also the extra in the famous “How do you plead…. Peter Baelish” scene from Season 7.

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Our tour guide is the guy on the left. He also said he was thinking “WHAAAAAA???” when this happened during filming.

Carnlough Harbour:

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Stopped for a coffee in Carnlough.

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The Carnlough Harbour steps were used for a scene in Season 6, Episode 7.

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My girl Arya trying to escape the Waif. This water was absolutely freezing.

Cushendun Caves:

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The Cushendun Caves are located in the Glens of Antrim. This is also the scene when Davos and Melisandre pull their boat up to the caves.

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The caves were formed from the Devonian puddingstone at Cushendun.

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This is also the location for the filming of the birth of Melisandre’s “shadow assassin” scene.

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The coast of Scotland is visible from the caves.

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The village of Cushendun.

Larrybane Chalk Quarry:

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View from the Larrybane Chalk Quarry.

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Larrybane Quarry is the location where they filmed Catelyn Stark meeting King Renly. It is also where they filmed the fight between Loras “The Knight of Flowers” Tyrell and Brienne “The Badass Bitch” of Tarth. That scene takes place behind us-ish, near the limestone wall.

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This was also the location for Renly Baratheon’s camp in Season 2, Episode 3.

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View from Larrybane Quarry.

Ballintoy Harbor:

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Ballintoy Harbor

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This Harbor is also the location where Gendry escapes Dragonstone in Season 3, Episode 10.

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Gendry: “Shit, I hope I can figure out this boat.”

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Also the location for the scene when Ser Davos asks Salladhor Saan for his help during the Battle of Blackwater Bay (Season 2, Episode 2).

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Chris: “Can I smoke here?”

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The Harbor looks out to Boheeshane Bay, Larry Bane Head, Sheep Island, Rathlin Island, and Scotland.

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The cliff all the way in the distance is the location where Jon Snow pets Drogon for the first time (Season Seven).

Dunluce Castle:

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Dunluce Castle’s ruins date all the way back to the 1500’s. Legend holds that the kitchen of the castle fell straight into the sea, killing seven cooks (although this has been largely debunked by paintings depicting life in the castle during that time).

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The castle is used for the GOT Harrenhal Castle shot.

The Dark Hedges:

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The Dark Hedges are an avenue of Beech trees planted near Gacehill House by James Stuart in 1775.

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It’s really interesting that these haunted trees became so popular because they were only featured for a couple of seconds in the show (when Arya and Gendry escape King’s Landing during Season 2, Episode 8).

The Giant’s Causeway:

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Not featured in the show, the Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO site. It is made up of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns.

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The Causeway was formed over millions of years from volcanic activity in the Antrim. The heating and cooling of lava created the unique landscape.

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Chris: “Can I smoke here?”

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Irish mythology contends that the columns are the remains of a causeway built by Irish giant Fionn MacCool to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner. Benandonner was outsmarted by Fionn’s wife and out of fright, destroyed the path from Ireland to Scotland on his way home.

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Carpet shoes for scale.

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The rocky coastline has caused a number of shipwrecks, including one in 1588, which killed over 1,000 men.

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Geology or Giants?

Bushmill’s Distillery: 

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Bushmills first obtained their license in 1608 (!!).

Belfast:

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Crescent Church

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Queen’s University

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Belfast Botanic Gardens

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Belfast Botanic Gardens

Ulster Museum, Belfast:

We visited the Game of Thrones Tapestry Exhibit at the Ulster Museum on our last day in Northern Ireland. The museum is amazing and I wish we had more time to view all of the exhibits! The tapestry is really cool to see; it takes up an entire room (80 meters long!) and shows the story from seasons one through seven.

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Restaurants:

Holohan’s Pantry:

Holohan’s Pantry is absolutely amazing and a must-eat restaurant if you have time in Belfast. They were able to fit us in last minute and I am so glad we were able to have an authentic Irish dinner in the short time we were in Belfast. We both had a version of the boxty, a traditional Irish potato pancake. They use local ingredients to develop traditional Irish cuisine. Soooo good.

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I had the Fermanagh Boxty Dumplings  also included wild mushrooms and leeks.

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Chris ordered the Boxty of the Day, which was basically a potato pancake stuffed with everything from a chicken pot pie.

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Sticky Guinness Pudding. HUZZAH.

Maggie May’s:

Maggie May’s is a great place for a genuine breakfast in Belfast. A tiny diner (only accepts cash) with a huge menu, they have options for everyone. One of the best brunches ever.

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Northern Ireland is one the most beautiful and interesting places we’ve visited in Europe.

Bonus gif:

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Watching: The Staircase (Netflix)

Reading: The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (Dan Egan)

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An Update on Nassar’s Abuse: Martha and Bela Karolyi

So much has happened over the past month. Former and current heads of USAG, USOC, and MSU have testified before Congress, even more details about who knew what and when have emerged, and we are starting to work towards a path to hold the enablers of Larry Nassar accountable.

I’m splitting up this update between the main players this month, first starting with Martha and Bela Karolyi. Let’s have a bit of a recap:

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Martha (left) and Bela (right) are two of the most famous coaches in the sport.

Bela and Martha Karolyi are heralded as one of the legends of the sport of women’s gymnastics. Bela famously coached the Romanian National Team in the 1970s, including Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect ten. After immigrating to the US, they coached many American greats including Mary Lou Retton, Betty Okino, Kim Zmeskal, Kerri Strug, and Dominique Moceanu. Both retired following the 1996 Olympics, where the American women won their first Olympic team gold medal.

In 2000, Bela was (controversially) hired as the National Team Coordinator prior to the Olympic Trials because the women’s program was not producing the results expected by USA Gymnastics. In 2001, Martha became the NTC and implemented the de-centralized system that has contributed to the success of the American program. Each month, training camps were held at the Karolyi Ranch; this was also the location for the selection camps prior to World and Olympic championships. The Ranch is also the location where many gymnasts were abused by Larry Nassar.

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To be clear, this was absolutely Martha’s program. She was in charge of the teams that went on to become some of the most successful and dominant in the history of the sport. Many former athletes allege that Martha controlled their food, weight, training programs, and did not allow chaperones. Following the 2016 Olympics, Martha and Bela quietly retired. They have remained silent as multiple lawsuits have been filed against the couple, many alleging mental, emotional and physical abuse at the Ranch.

Last month Martha and Bela finally broke the silence on their role in Nassar’s abuse (“It wasn’t us! We are victims too!”) in an interview with Dateline, as well as in written testimonies and lawsuits.

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I can only imagine this to be Martha’s reaction.

The NBC News Dateline Interview

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In late April NBC News interviewed a number of survivors (Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney), parents (the Nichols’, the Raismans’) and Bela and Martha Karolyi for a Dateline special on Nassar’s abuse.

In the interview, Martha (and Bela) continue their “Whaaaa? We were just little coaches who just worked with coaches and maybe selected teams!” narrative:

“In their Dateline interview, the Karolyis said they didn’t know of Nassar’s abuse. Martha Karolyi said she ‘never, ever (heard), not one single complaint’ about the doctor.

‘I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in the therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this,’ Martha Karolyi said. ‘And the parent couldn’t see. How I could see?’

‘The whole gymnastics community couldn’t recognize this,’ she added. ‘Everybody said Larry Nassar is a good doctor, Larry Nassar is a good guy.'”

The issue here (again) is the lack of accountability. Sure, Martha and Bela may have not known that Nassar was abusing gymnasts in their home–even though he was the only adult allowed in the personal rooms of the athletes during camps–but it is the culture of abuse that enabled him to hurt so many gymnasts. The Karolyi Ranch is isolated, with minimal cell phone service and lacks even the most basic of medical facilities (the “massage room” was a table in a TV room); chaperones were not allowed at camps or competitions. Martha was a very intense NTC who was notorious for creating pressure-filled situations, controlling of food and the weight of the athletes, and also lacked empathy for injuries; this allowed Nassar to groom gymnasts into trusting him while also protecting Martha’s abusive environment:

“While the Americans became the world’s most dominant team under the Karolyis, winning 97 world championship and Olympic medals, some have said their exacting standards fostered an atmosphere in which gymnasts and their coaches were afraid to speak up. It was that culture that allowed Nassar to prey on young gymnasts, some have said.

‘Larry acted like our friend. He always had a sympathetic ear for complaints about our coaches,’ [Jordyn] Wieber said Wednesday during an appearance before a Senate subcommittee investigating sexual abuse in the Olympic movement. ‘He would bring us food, candy and coffee at the Olympics when we were hungry. I didn’t know that these were all grooming techniques that he used to manipulate and brainwash me into trusting him.'”

In the interview, Bela states that while he was abusive toward gymnasts in Romania, he “never” verbally or physically abused American athletes. Although many gymnasts over the past twenty years have stated otherwise.

The Karolyis also said that they had hoped to use the Ranch now as a place for orphaned children, but because of Nassar’s abuse and the stigma now on the location, they will not be able to become foster parents.

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This is just so, ugh, that I can’t even comment on how ridiculous of a statement it is, furthering their continued lack of empathy AND responsibility in the health of their former athletes; they would rather be seen as victims than own up to the fact that they did not protect the gymnasts that trained there. The entire interview can be seen here.

Karolyis File Lawsuit Against USA Gymnastics & USOC

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Martha Karolyi (left) consoles Sabrina Vega (right) after she was not chosen to make the 2012 Olympic Team.

This April the Karolyis filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee claiming damages over the canceled sale of the ranch to USAG, as well as stating they were not a responsible party for Larry Nassar’s abuse that occurred at their home over the past fifteen years.

The Ranch has been used as a training center by USA Gymnastics since 2000, and the organization was set to purchase the compound for more than $3 million after Martha Karolyi retired as National Team Coordinator in 2016. USAG canceled this purchase most notably after 2016 gold medalist Simone Biles stated on Twitter that she would not like to return to the site of her abuse. Current USAG CEO Kerry Perry may take credit for shutting down the Ranch, but the fact of the matter is that if Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, refuses to attend training sessions, you have to discontinue using that location, regardless of whatever purchase is in the works.

USA gymnastics to drop the Karolyi ranch for training camps after Simone Biles said going back to it would traumatize her

Simone’s tweet that closed the Ranch.

 

In addition to the “stigma” that Nassar’s abuse has brought to the Karolyi Ranch, their lawsuit also contends that the location was simply used as a training center by USAG and the USOC, thereby clearing the couple of any responsibility:

“The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Nassar was not subject to the Karolyis’ control, that he was subject to USA Gymnastics’ control and that the plaintiffs did not have knowledge of his sexual misconduct until 2016.

The lawsuit the Karolyis and their businesses filed against USA Gymnastics and the USOC seeks indemnification ‘as they were serving another corporation (USAG) at the request of USOC, and they were made party to litigation because of that relationship.'”

This lawsuit directly contradicts their 2017 deposition, which claimed the couple did not know about the abuse until 2016; this lawsuit states they were informed by USAG CEO Steve Penny in 2015.

It is important to note that there are three current lawsuits filed against the Karolyis by former national team athletes. The lawsuits contend that the couple physically abused gymnasts, withheld food and water during training camps, and created a culture of abuse that allowed Nassar’s abuse to occur. Former National Team Member, 2011 Team World Champion, and current UGA gymnast Sabrina Vega is the latest athlete to come forward. Her lawsuit was filed last month.

Martha is “too ill” to Testify to Congress

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Last week former USAG CEO Steve Penny, former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, former USAG Vice-President of the Women’s Program Rhonda Faehn, former USOC President Scott Blackmun, and former USAG NTC Martha Karolyi were scheduled to appear at a hearing before the United States Senate. Citing illness, Martha stated she was unable to attend. Unlike Simon and Penny, the Senate did not subpoena Karolyi to appear (why not?!)

Because she was too “ill” to appear before the Senate, Martha was allowed to submit a letter to the committee where she completely sidesteps any responsibility regarding protecting athletes from abuse:

“As the National Team Coordinator, my primary durites were confined to the gymnasium. I did not have any policy-making authority for USA Gymnastics or USOC. Nor was I ever consulted on sexual abuse prevention policies or hiring decsions. USA Gymnastics hired Larry Nassar to provide medical services to the US Women’s National Gymnastics Team.”

In her letter, Martha also advocates for requiring chaperones to camps and competitions, which is laughable considering she did not allow parents of athletes at the Ranch or during competitions.

In retaliation for her lack of appearance before the Senate, many former gymnasts have shared their stories of abuse at the hands of Martha:

  • 1999 Wold Team Member Jeanette Antolin: “When I was sick as an athlete, I was still expected to practice, compete, and see Larry Nassar for treatment.”
  • 2013 Junior National Elite Norah Flatley: “Yeah but when my feet were broken I was still required to come train at her Ranch. Lol ‘too sick’.”
  • 2015 US National Team Member Rachel Gowey: “Lol when I had an asthma attack for like 2 days in the middle of nowhere, my inhaler wasn’t working and she still made me verify a full floor routine when I couldn’t breathe…”
  • 2010 World Team Member Mattie Larson: “I was willing to physically hurt myself to get out of the abuse that I received at the ranch. When I attended the next camp Martha Karolyi approached me and said, ‘You know what? Kim Zmeskal fell out of the top bunk of the cabins in here and she didn’t miss practice the next day. She did not say another word to me the rest of the camp.”

The United States Senate needs to require both Martha and Bela to testify, especially after their conflicting narratives were discovered and former USAG CEO Steve Penny chose to plead the fifth during the committee hearing.

Nassar might be in jail, but the people that enabled him to abuse so many athletes remain free. They need to be held accountable.

Currently Reading: Things We Haven’t Said by Erin E. Moulton

“The craft beer brewers are the new rockstars”: An Interview with the organizers of BPBW Beer Week in Budapest

One of the best ways to experience a city’s culture is through their food and local beer. Moving from Charleston, SC to Hungary in 2016, we’ve loved tasting the amazingly unique beers developing in Budapest.

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Local brewery Mad Scientist opened their own bar inside the popular ruin pub Szimpla Kert. The goal of the bar is “to be as ‘mad scientisty’ as possible.”

The Hungarian craft beer scene has been growing; this May, Budapest will host the country’s very first international craft beer festival from the 21st-27th. Beer Week in Budapest (BPBW) will feature unlimited tastings from 40 local and international breweries on Friday and Saturday. While the beer is important, the emphasis of BPBW is to provide attendees with a complete experience while in Hungary’s capital city: the festival will also include after-parties with lineups of over 20 (!!) local bands, meet the brewer events, as well as tap takeovers across the city.

Like many great things, the idea of the festival was born in a beer bar under the influence of new wave brewing, international festivals, inspiring brewers and of course a decent amount of good beer. The goal was simple and straightforward from the beginning: although during the past couple of years the wind of craft has touched the Hungarian beer scene and great breweries has been risen from the ground, it is clear that we have to leap that next step to connect our culture into the international circles of craft beer. That is why we are here -and so are you.

Developed by three “beer enthusiasts” with experience in all aspects of brewing, I spoke with Marton Sefcsik, one of the organizers who works in online marketing as well as the editor in chief of local beer blog, Fenekig.com, about the history of craft beer in Hungary, the goals of BPBW, and how he sees the movement growing in the future.

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Marton Sefcsik

When did you start to see the Hungarian craft beer movement start to develop? 

I’ve always appreciated import beers rather than drinking shitty local lagers owned by multinational corporations. Of course, most of the imported beers were owned by big companies. So it’s 2009-2010 and we’re already regulars at pubs that serve Czech beers, but we start to get our hands on some even more interesting and complex local and export beers. In 2011 the first craft beer fest happened in Budapest (Főzdefeszt), a small, but fun event with only local beers and a few up and coming brewers together with some more traditional countryside breweries. I remember being blown away by ipas, I really developed a nice taste for that. Then thanks to an awesome bottleshop called Csakajósör (Onlygoodbeer) the world of real beers opened. By then, BrewDog has been an absolute favorite! The rest is history…

What was the inspiration behind BPBW and what do you hope visitors experience while at the sessions?

MBCC, Brewskival, Tallinn Craft Beer Weekend, etc… We wanted to bring the very same vibe to the city we know and love the most. We hope that Budapest won’t only be the backing image for awesome times, but that with this festival we’ll be able to join the circulation of the leading craft beer scenes.

We want to show you the best our beloved city can offer.

A great deal of work was put into including local bands and cultural experiences into BPBW. Why was it important to include these different aspects of Budapest into the Week?

This city is much more than the home of spas, ruin pubs and spicy cuisine. We want people to witness the real Budapest through BPBW Beer Week in Budapest, that’s why our event is inside the city, just a few minutes away from the party district, near one of the main tourist attractions of the city called Heroes Square.

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“Come for the tastings sessions, stay for the week!” – join us in Budapest with our favorite international and beloved Hungarian breweries, let’s make a hell of a party in the name of quality beers!

Your website states that the goal of BPBW is “connecting Budapest and the Hungarian craft scene into the international streamline of good beer.” How do think BPBW will accomplish that goal?

Visitors from across the globe will come over for the international headliners, no wonder, but we’re sure everyone will find their local favorites as well! We also encourage brewers from abroad to make bonds and check out the local breweries to do collab brews. Many breweries have their own bars or good connections to their local scenes so there’s no better opportunity like this to schedule future tap takeovers!

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Tickets are still available! BPBW encourages attendees to “drink great beers, meet the brewers, raise hell, and have fun.”

What is unique about Budapest breweries and what sets them apart from other cities and their craft beer?

The scene is strong and better developed compared to the surrounding countries. Trends have an impact on everyone, but I believe here we’re not copying them blindly. We start to know what is quality beer and we’re not afraid to go the extra mile. Budapest is a vibrant and colorful city with rich culture and history, so it’s hard to make statements that fit everybody though, but this is definitely a strength that each of us see the World a bit different, so there’s no typical Budapest craft beer or brewery.

“We’d like to think that the Hungarian craft beer has grown up and we would like the international spotlight to shine on it, to make sure people are not only visiting Beer Week in Budapest because the previously mentioned festivals are being almost immediately sold out, but also for the beauty of our beloved the city and also its vivid beer scene.”

How do you see the Hungarian craft beer movement evolving in the future?

What is truly exciting, that there’s no week without the premiere of a new beer or the opening of a new crafty place. The scene is booming! There were times when the demand was higher than the supply; this has changed in the last 1-2 years, so these days we’re moving towards quality. It’s not enough if you’re beers are okay anymore. To stay on the scene, you need to impress your customers month by month with new and wild brews, but also, you should keep your core range on the same high quality. Not everyone will survive, but people are working hard on this every day, so in the end the customers always win.

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During the official press conference at the British Embassy of Budapest the press was introduced to the patron and guest of honor, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Hungary Mr. Iain Lindsay (middle).

In your opinion, what is the absolute “must-try” beer and venue for those visiting Budapest?

Visit Főzdepark hosting 4 craft breweries on the same spot in the outskirts of Budapest, take a tour, taste some beers from the tank (you cannot go wrong with Horizont, HopTop, Mad Scientist and MONYO – they are the must tries for sure), then head over to Csakajósör bottle shop, the true source of the craft beer revolution in Hungary. If the weather is good, catch the last rays of the sun over the Danube and treat yourself right with a beer on the riverbank at Jónás Craft Beer House (maybe you’ll do a burger as well). You can make a stop at Élesztő on your way back to the party district as they used to be the flagship of Hungarian craft beer bars, but in a few minutes you can reach the brewpub called Neked Csak Dezső with another wide range of local and international brews as well (and you can have bistro meals as well), but if you’re hungry for some burgers, drop in to Kandalló as they always have some awesome beers on tap as well. It’s getting late, but you can still lose yourself at bars like Hops Beer Bar or Hopaholic, providing not only a cool vibe, but a crazy selection of international brands as well. Catch the night bus, but first, grab a pizza and your last slips of beer at KUZIN Bar. What a night! You’d like to do it over and over again…

 

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BPBW will feature beer from forty craft breweries.

Extra special thank you to Marton Sefcsik for the interview and all of the people working to make BPBW a success. Buy your ticket now!

Cheers,

Ashlyn

Leadership at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics has failed to change the culture that Enabled Larry Nassar.

 

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While Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison this February, the story of his abuse–most importantly how he got away with it for SO LONG–continues to unfold. To recap, Nassar’s molestation of over 300 women over the course of 20+ years in multiple institutions is one of the largest abuse cases in the history of the United States. Check back at previous blogs for more information on how we got here. Seven more plaintiffs have filed lawsuits this week and it is estimated that Nassar’s abuse will cost Michigan State more than the Sandusky case impacted Penn State.

The past two weeks have shown the true intentions of the leadership at both Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. Just because Nassar is in prison does not mean that the case is closed; the people and institutions that enabled him have yet to be held accountable. Despite the fact that even after hundreds of women have come forward, both the presidents of MSU and USAG have failed to truly change the culture that enabled Nassar and silenced survivors over all these years.

What a month. Let’s overview.

Michigan State University

Interim President John Engler Lies, Offers Cash to Survivors

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Interim President John Engler

During last Friday’s MSU Board of Trustees meeting, survivor Kaylee Lorincz stated that interim President John Engler had offered her $250,000 to settle her complaint:

“Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, ‘Right now, if I wrote you a check for $250,000 would you take it?'” Lorincz said. When I explained that it’s not about the money for me and that I just want to help, he said, ‘Well give me a number.’ He also said that he had met with Rachael Denhollander [the first survivor to come forward] and that she gave him a number.”

When she stated that the meeting was not about money, but to introduce herself, Engler told Lorincz that her civil suit was about money so they needed to discuss it.  Denhollander said that she had never met Engler and was “beyond disappointed” at his words.

Because she only had three minutes to speak at the meeting, Lorincz’s microphone was cut after reaching the allotted time, which prompted chants of “let her speak”; she continued reading her statement to the group, further explaining that Engler also said that he was angry that “because of one doctor” many other physicians are being “judged” at the university. When her mother pushed back, saying that former dean Strampel was arrested for assault, Engler reportedly rolled his eyes and said “that was a slap on the butt.” Strampel (see below) was arrested for soliciting naked photos from students, having pornography on his work computer, and for not following up on the standards put in place after Nassar’s Title IX investigation.

Following the meeting, MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant told Lorincz’s mother (who was also in the meeting) that Engler was simply having a “philosophical discussion” with Lorincz and that the $250,000 offer was not formal. In emails to the Board of Trustees, Vice President and Special Counsel to Engler, Carol Viventi, stated that Lorincz’s statements were false, emails she later apologized for. On Friday, more that 100 people protested for Engler to resign. The Faculty Senate has also called for the resignation of the Board of Trustees.

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A “philosophical” discussion with a survivor of sexual abuse? Lying about speaking to the woman who first spoke out?

Lorincz was abused by Nassar when she was 13 years old. You can hear her statement to the Board of Trustees here and her victim impact statement here.

William Strampel Arrested

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Former Dean Strampel (left) and Nassar (right).

What does it take to be fired by MSU?

Former Dean of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel became the first MSU employee to be charged with crimes related to Nassar after he was arrested for harassing, propositioning, sexually assaulting, and soliciting pornographic videos of female students. Nassar’s boss for over ten years, Strampel failed to follow up with procedures put in place after a Michigan State graduate filed a complaint that Nassar had assaulted her during an appointment on the campus. He also allowed Nassar to continue to see patients while he was under investigation in 2014.

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Documents show that Strampel had been sexually harassing members of the university for years. His 2010 evaluation includes a statement that he had been “spoken to” about behavior that made others feel uncomfortable; many women complained he physically harassed them and made sexual comments during conversations:

“The affidavit cataloged complaints from three other students.

One of them said that after she was summoned by Strampel for falling asleep in class in 2011, he told her she would never make it in the profession if she didn’t dress sexier. Two years later, when she met with him to discuss complaints about her residency, he allegedly had her turn around so he could look at her body and told her: ‘What do I have to do to teach you to be submissive and subordinate to men?’

At a scholarship dinner in 2014, as she posed for a picture with Strampel, the dean grabbed her buttock and squeezed it, she told police. A few months later at a luncheon, she asked him to stop looking at her body and he allegedly replied, ‘Eye candy is eye candy.'”

In addition to asking students for nude photos, Strampel’s work computer also contained pornography, nude photos of MSU students, as well as a video of Nassar performing his treatment abuse on a woman. Again, this internal report was completed in 2010, meaning MSU leadership knew Strampel’s history of assaulting women and did nothing. You can read the full affidavit here.

An editorial for The Detroit News sums it up best:

“The bottom line: MSU had every reason to believe that it had a sexual predator on its payroll in the form of William Strampel and failed to act. The school’s neglect in 2010 contributed to Nassar’s ability to continue molesting women even after complaints were raised.”

Strampel had still been employed at MSU until February of this year.

Jeffery R. Kovan Still Employed

Dr. Jeff Kovan

Jeffery R. Koven (left)

Former Director of MSU Sport Medicine, Jeffery Kovan, is one of the defendants in civil suits filed against Michigan State University. Originally “livid” when Nassar was fired in 2016, Kovan has supported Nassar’s treatments abuse:

According to Michigan Radio, the police report states Kovan said he was unsure if Nassar did anything wrong.

“Kovan stated that Nassar is a good person with a good core, who believes people are good,” according to the report. “Kovan stated the procedure and the things Nassar stated Nassar was doing were intended for the right reasons. … Kovan stated Nassar is too good of a person, with the right intentions, to end up in prison.”

Kovan is still employed at Michigan State.

Even More Cases of Covering Up Sexual Abuse

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Instances of sexual assault by members of MSU’s football and basketball teams have surfaced this month. Three members (Josh King, Demetric Vance and Donnie Corley) of the university’s football team pleaded guilty to their charge of seducing a woman into performing oral sex, recording the act, and distributing the images over Snapchat. The players agreed to a plea bargain and will most likely include prison time or the requirement to register as a sex offender. The plaintiff has remained anonymous due to the treatment of the survivors of Nassar’s assault by MSU’s Board of Trustees:

“’Part of the reason she doesn’t want to go public at this point is what has happened to the women in the Nassar case,’” said Truszkowski, referring to the more than 200 victims in the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

“’They have been crucified. Not by the media but by members of the Board (of Trustees), etc., and she is not willing to deal with that now,’” the lawyer said. “’They have been awful to those women … the comments that some of board members have made and the way MSU has treated them.’”

The players were dismissed from the team following a Title IX investigation and all three players have joined the football team at the Coahoma Community College in Mississippi. Their sentencing is on June 6th.

A suit filed two weeks ago alleges that Michigan State discouraged a student from reporting that she had been raped members of the university’s basketball team:

“The week after the alleged assault, the woman went to MSU’s Counseling Center and disclosed the incident to a staff member, the suit says. When she told the employee that the rape involved members of the basketball team, another person was brought into the room and they told the victim she could file a police report but cautioned her about the consequences of doing so, according to the complaint.

The MSUCC staff made it clear to (the victim) that if she chose to notify the police, she faced an uphill battle that would create anxiety and unwanted media attention and publicity as had happened with many other female students who were sexually assaulted by well-known athletes.”

The report states that three players introduced themselves to the victim and after buying her drinks, invited her to a party, explaining that her roommate was already there. Once they arrived, she states that she was unable to text correctly, felt “discombobulated” and believes she may have been drugged. Her roommate was not there. The report indicates that she was taken into a room and raped by the three players.

Unsure what to do, the victim was convinced by a friend to report the abuse to MSU’s counseling center. The staff reportedly discouraged her from reporting the abuse because the players “have big names on campus” and did not notify her of the options available to her. Because she did not know of the “no-contact” policy, she would see the players in the cafeteria and dorm; she later withdrew from MSU and after stating why, the university refunded her the tuition that had been paid.

The players are no longer at the university and the report does not name them specifically because the focus of the lawsuit is how the university responded to the complaint.

MSU Spends $500,000 to Monitor Survivors

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Me. Every day.

This March, a public relations firm billed Michigan State University half a million dollars for tracking personal social media accounts for those involved in the Nassar case; this included the personal accounts for survivors, their families, and journalists covering the story. Previously and continuously done by the Office of Communication and Brand Strategy, the university hired the New York based Weber Shandwick firm to monitor social media conversations about MSU, including posts made by survivors.

Here is a screenshot of an email between Shandwick and MSU staff:

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Double yikes.

According to the Lansing State Journal, MSU has paid $9.69 million  to outside firms ” in connection with work on lawsuits or communications strategy related to Nassar’s criminal case and related fallout.” This does not include various other law firms working with the university, including a New York firm that has billed MSU $5.4 million, among others.

Former President Lou Anna Simon Still Receives Benefits from MSU

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Lou Anna Simon resigned stating: “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable.  As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon still retains part of her salary, is receiving a new office, and has the opportunity to join the faculty at the university. Simon resigned in January following pressure from students, faculty, and the Board of Trustees for mishandling the allegations of abuse against Nassar.

Although she resigned after more than a decade as president, Simon will receive a new office in a historic building that was recently renovated for nearly $1 million. Due to her tenured professorship with MSU, Simon still earns 75% of her $750,000 salary for the next twelve months and can return to the university as a professor where she will earn her full presidential salary for the first year and 75% of the salary each year after.

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With over 250 confirmed survivors, Simon’s lack of leadership could cost the university at least $1 billion in settlements.

USA Gymnastics

USAG Lies About the Use of NDAs

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2012 Olympic Champion McKayla Maroney

In December 2017, reports surfaced that USA Gymnastics paid 2012 Olympian McKayla Maroney $1.25 million in exchange for her silence regarding the years of abuse she suffered from their official team doctor. This month, USAG CEO Kerry Perry stated to Congress that there have been no other NDAs between the governing body and athletes.

However, the OC Register found proof that two other athletes had signed agreements with USAG after they were sexually abused by their coach:

“But listed among the ‘AGREEMENTS’ in the out-of-court settlements between USA Gymnastics and the two gymnasts is ‘Non-Disclosure,’ in which each woman ‘agrees to keep the amount paid and the terms of the Agreement confidential, and not disclose it to anyone other than her immediate family and any accountants or taxing authorities with a need to know.’

USA Gymnastics paid each of the gymnasts $100,000 as part of the late-2000s settlements. The former U.S. junior national team member said her coach began grooming her when she was 11, forced her to perform oral sex when she was 12 and continued to sexually abuse her and her teammate for several years. At one point, the coach had sex with both girls, then 13 or 14, at the same time while his young children slept in the next room, she said.”

The coach was banned. USAG also chose to investigate the personal lives of the two gymnasts, including whether they had cheated on their boyfriends or were “promiscuous”. As part of the agreement, then CEO Steve Penny was required to create a 1-800 hotline for gymnasts to report abuse; this was never implemented. Former U.S. national team members Jennifer Sey and Jessica Armstrong, along with 18 other athletes, asked for the hotline to be established in 2012. Again, it was never started.

USAG responded that they did not technically lie to Congress because they were asked about the use of NDAs in investigations, not the use of NDAs in terms of settlements.

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Sure, that argument will work.

 

Jordyn Wieber Files Lawsuit Against USAG and MSU

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2012 Olympian Jordyn Wieber presents her victim impact statement.

This week Olympian Jordyn Wieber filed a lawsuit against MSU, the USOC, and USAG for hiding Larry Nassar’s abuse from the public:

“My teammates and I were subjected Larry Nassar every single month at the national team training center in Texas. He was the only male allowed to be present in the athlete dorm rooms to do whatever he wanted. He was allowed to treat us in hotel rooms alone and without any supervision. Nobody was protecting us from being taken advantage of. Nobody was even concerned whether or not we were being sexually abused. I was not protected. My teammates were not protected. My parents trusted USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar to take care of me and we were betrayed by both. And now, the lack of accountability from USAG and Michigan State, have caused me and many other girls to remain shameful, confused, and disappointed.”

In addition to the protection of Nassar’s abuse, Wieber also states that USAG destroyed her medical records in order to conceal that the team doctor had treated abused her. When she asked for her medical records, USAG sent the 2011 World Champion a collection of emails and forms about her medical care:

Both USAG and MSU “applauded” Wieber’s bravery but did not comment on the medical records.

Yikes

Nassar began abusing Wieber at age 14 and her statement can be found here.

McKayla Maroney Speaks

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Maroney spoke publicly for the first time at the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

This week Mckayla Maroney spoke publicly about surviving Nassar’s abuse at the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and with the Wall Street Journal.

“My team won gold medals in spite of USA Gymnastics and the Olympic Committee. They don’t build champions, they break them. But we’re changing that…. USAG, MSU and USOC continued to look away to protect their reputations. All they cared about was money, medals and it didn’t seem like anything else. They demanded excellence from me, but they couldn’t give it to us.”

In the absolutely heartbreaking Wall Street Journal article Maroney describes that as Nassar’s “favorite”, she was abused hundreds of times, including once when she was drugged and woke up to Nassar straddling her in her hotel room. She described that without Nassar, she would have “starved” during the 2012 Olympics; he gave the gymnasts food when it was withheld from them at the National Training Center (the Karolyi Ranch) and during competitions. She also states that she had told the other gymnasts and coach John Geddert about the abuse, which was furthered corroborated by Aly Raisman.

“‘In my whole gymnastics career, I was trained to be quiet.’ Ms. Maroney said in her New York appearance this week. She said her parents, like those of teammates, are struggling with guilt for having failed to recognize Nassar’s abuse. ‘I, at times,’ she said, ‘Question whether my gymnastics career was worth it.'”

Marcia Frederick’s Coach Confirms Abuse

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Marcia Frederick

The first American woman to win a world championship title in gymnastics, Marcia Frederick, came forward earlier this year with reports that her former coach, Richard Carlson, forced her to perform sex acts on him when she was sixteen years old. Frederick publicly told her story because she was concerned that the complaints she filed in 2011 and 2015 to USA Gymnastics were ignored.

This week, an attorney for Carlson proposed a settlement to USA Gymnastics: Carlson would admit to having sex with Frederick and accept a lifetime ban from the sport, as long as the ban was not made public.

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Me. What. The. Hell.

Frederick states that after she rejected the proposal, Carlson changed his mind and stated that the abuse never occurred:

“I will never be part of an agreement where a coach (admits) to having sex with a teenager but gets a deal where no one knows. My job now is to protect other kids from this happening to them. What good is it to have a banned list if you’re not going to make it public?”

The Karolyis

The Deposition 

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Bela (left) and Martha (right) Karolyi have been heralded as the best coaches in the history of the sport.

This month Bela and Martha Karolyis’ 2017 deposition was obtained by the Dallas Morning News. Both coaches have numerous lawsuits against the couple regarding the enabling of Larry Nassar to abuse gymnasts at their ranch in Texas–the then official training center for USA Gymnastics. The lawsuit by former gymnast Mattie Larson states that the enabling was created by the toxic environment of the training center and the coaches turned a blind eye Nassar, who would come to the bedrooms of the athletes alone.

Martha claims that Nassar was “seldom” at the Ranch and that the responsibility for the safety of the athletes fell solely on USAG. Former athletes and trainers have testified that he was a fixture at training camps, which were also previously called “death camps” by the athletes. Larson, Jeanette Antolin, Raisman, and Maroney among others have stated that they were abused at the home of the Karolyis. When asked about security at the Ranch, Martha stated :“I — I really wasn’t in charge of organizing that. I don’t know. It’s — I think USA Gymnastics took care of it.” and later said that she was not responsible for monitoring the cabins where the gymnasts slept and where Nassar performed his treatment abuse.

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While Martha downplayed her role as the National Team Coordinator, the voices of the gymnasts show how involved she was with every aspect of not just their training, but their lives while at the Ranch:

“’Martha was the national team coordinator but the way I saw it, she sort of had control over anything and everything that went on at the ranch,’ said 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber. ‘She knew what was going on every second in the gym. She knew how many routines that we did. She knew what we were eating. She knew our treatments. So it was just, when you go there, you know that Martha is watching. Everything you’re doing, she’s watching.’”

Martha was the National Team Coordinator from 2001-2016 and was notorious for controlling many aspects of the gymnasts’ lives. The conditions at the Ranch helped create a culture of silence among the athletes; Martha was known to not favor gymnasts who complained or spoke up; Aly Raisman stated that she and her teammates were even afraid to ask for soap or better food. In her impact statement, Mattie Larson said she wasn’t given medical attention and was forced to use a rolling chair because the location lacked a wheelchair. The seclusion of the Ranch–parents were not allowed and there was no cell phone service–contributed to the isolation that allowed Nassar to thrive.

This week the Karolyis gave an interview with NBC News about their lack of knowledge regarding Nassar’s abuse at the home. Bela stated: “The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding. Boom.”

The Karolyis will appear on an episode of Dateline this Sunday.

John Geddert

More Survivors of Abuse Come Forward

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John Geddert, owner of Twistars, was the official 2012 Olympic coach and personal coach to 2011 All Around Champion Jordyn Wieber.

In an amazing article by CNN, seven former Geddert gymnasts and their families detail the physical and mental abuse they suffered at Geddert’s gym, Twistars:

“One says he injured her so badly it ended her career at age 17. Another says he failed to get her medical attention after she broke her neck at practice, an injury she said the doctor told her could have left her paralyzed. A third gymnast said Geddert made her train on a broken leg for nearly a month when she was 13. Two teenage gymnasts attempted suicide. All the young women who spoke to CNN said he repeatedly disregarded their injuries.

‘John was always scary, even when he wasn’t my coach yet,’ said gymnast Bailey Lorencen. ‘He would be throwing water bottles at the girls in the gym and get in their face and scream at them.’

Geddert coached through fear, his gymnasts say – and his abuse often led them to seek emotional comfort with Nassar, the doctor at Twistars.”

Geddert was suspended by USAG and is currently under investigation.

Geddert Under Lawsuit by Insurance Company

State Farm has filed a lawsuit against Geddert alleging that they are not responsible for paying the $75,000 worth of legal damages to the women who were sexually abused by Nassar in the Twistars gym. In their statement, State Farm notes that they do not have to cover the gym because Geddert ignored repeated warnings of Nassar’s abuse.

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Geddert’s attorney states that the claims brought forward against the former Olympic coach are invalid due to the statute of limitations.

Everything is a dumpster fire. What do we do?

 

In an article for Slate, Christina Cauterucci sums things up for us:

“MSU and USA Gymnastics have demonstrated what it looks like when powerful institutions make money off the bodies of young girls, prioritize that money and reputation over safety, then switch gears and throw a lot of money at the problem when it all blows up in their faces. Neither organization wanted to spend the time, energy, and human capital it would have taken to thoroughly investigate Nassar and other abusive coaches, slog through any legal challenges the men brought, and replace the offenders with nonabusive employees. Now, they’re on the hook for more money, more legal challenges, and more public scorn than before—plus, it bears mentioning, hundreds of girls were abused in their respective periods of inaction.”

The key here is to keep these institutions on the hook. The fact that these new people in leadership positions (Perry for USAG, Engler for MSU) are continuously making the exact. same. stances on abuse proves that the culture absolutely has not changed. That same culture that created an atmosphere for abuse, that enabled Nassar to hurt hundreds, if not thousands, of people even after multiple people came forward.

Larry Nassar may be the face of one of the largest abuse cases in the history of the United States, but don’t forget all the people that ignored complaints and stood by him even when they were told the truth. Okay, the Karolyis may have not known that Nassar was abusing gymnasts at the their home. But the culture that created that behavior to happen for over 20 years–silencing athletes, isolating girls, promoting competing with injuries, and even monitoring their food intake–those things all allowed a man who was not even licensed to practice medicine in Texas to abuse children under the guise of medical care at the National Training Center for USA Gymnastics.

The sexism in the coverage of this case, along with the silence from NCAA, is deafening. For reference, when Jerry Sandusky was accused of molesting 45 children, their legendary football coach Joe Paterno was forced to resign before the end of the season and the NCAA initially imposed some of the most severe fines in the history of collegiate sports: a four year post-season ban, $60 million fine, and a loss of 40 scholarships. When asked about the MSU case, the president of the NCAA Mark Emmert stated:

“’I don’t have enough information [on] the details of what transpired at the school right now,’ Emmert said via ESPN. ‘That’s obviously something that the university itself is looking deeply into. You hear that testimony — it just breaks your heart when you look at it, but I can’t offer an opinion at this time. It’s clearly very, very disturbing, and I know the leadership there is equally shaken by it.'”

Keep your “heartbreaking testimony” and actually hold the institution responsible. What other details do you need?! For reference, only one person has been fired from MSU and arrested.

The Athletic also disclosed that Mark Emmert knew of 37 cases of abuse at Michigan State University as far back as 2010.

In her victim impact statement, Morgan McCaul says:

“I remember when the Penn State scandal was talked about at length for months and months and even years. This is nearly five times the size and no one knows about it […] I think it plays into the importance that we put on male athletics versus female athletics. This is a case of gymnasts and dancers and figure skaters, not football players or basketball players. I think it’s sexism, to be honest. There’s no other explanation for why this many women have come forward and it’s not big news.”

Larrissa Boyce also added:

“Don’t forget the victims, their stories or their voices. Don’t forget about us when it’s over. Don’t forget those truths that you heard these past weeks..don’t forget me, don’t forget my story, don’t forget the 265 ‘me toos.'”

Don’t forget them. Keep pushing for change.

Required Reading: Why We Treat Victims of Larry Nassar Differently than the Victims of Jerry Sandusky by Marcie Bianco

Extra special ❤ ❤ to Gymcastic for their continued coverage.

Early 2018 Wanderings: Bratislava, Vienna, and Prague

It has been a busy few travel months as we transition from winter to spring (finally). From Bratislava (chilly), to Vienna (freezing), and Prague (Do I need a jacket? Shorts? What’s happening?) we’ve found some new favorite spots and seen a few of our most-loved bands in familiar cities.

Bratislava, Slovakia

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Love this city

Deli Grössling:

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Via Facebook

Located next to the Church of St. Elisabeth, Deli Grösling is a great spot for a sandwich and baked treats. We ordered egg and pepper sandwiches along with a couple of amazing Slovakian desserts. Bratislavské Rožky and Laskonky meringue cookies are both a must-try and perfect for a short bus ride home.

Urban House (again): 

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“It’s just the two of you?”

Urban House is one of my favorite spots for breakfast (clearly). We splurged on enough food to feed a family of five, as well as ordered their take on a Bloody Mary. In the red mug with ice, this was one of my absolutely favorite versions of this classic breakfast cocktail. So good in fact that we cornered the bartender to pressure him into hearing our compliments on his superior mixing skills.

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Both Haley’s and my’s reaction to those pancakes.

Žil Verne:

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via Facebook

Žil Verne was voted one of the best craft beer bars in Bratislava in 2016. One of my favorites, they have a list of local and non-local brews that changes daily, along with an extremely local menu (the sheep cheese and pickled veg plate is 🙌🏼).

Michalska Cocktail Room:

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A secret speakeasy located above Urban Bistro, Michalska Cocktail Room is our favorite cocktail bar in Bratislava. When I mention that it’s a “secret”, I’m not overexaggerating; the entrance to the bar looks like a wardrobe and opening the door feels like you’re wandering into Narnia. The drink list is genuine, original, and while a bit on the expensive side, totally worth it. While we were there we secretly watched–maybe not so secretly as there were a lot of cheering–Judge Aquilina deliver her message to Larry Nassar: “I’ve just signed your death warrant.

Vienna, Austria

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Chris and I visited Vienna to see one of our favorite bands, Pokey Lafarge. They played at the Chelsea, which is a small and fun venue, but made it virtually impossible for me to take any pictures that look remotely decent. It was absolutely freezing–like too cold for my multi-layer Eastern Europe coat and socks–but luckily the sun was out most of the time.

Bonus: They played one of our favorite songs, Rotterdam.

Gürel Bräu:

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“I’ll probably take half of this home…nevermind it’s too good not to finish the whole thing not.”

Near the Chelsea, we stopped at Gürel Bräu for dinner before the show. They have a cozy atmosphere and great menu including this spinach spaetzle.

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Cafe Mendez:

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via Facebook

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I can not say enough great things about Cafe Mendez. They have an awesome food and drink menu and the service was great! We ordered the nachos and I chose the “Floral and Wow” cocktail, which was 👌🏻👌🏻. We shared a plate of nachos and their menu has a variety of quesadilla and burger options too.

7 Stern Bräu:

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After watching the Miracurl on Ice, Chris and I celebrated the US curling team’s first ever gold medal by visiting 7 Stern Bräu. The brewery has a traditional atmosphere and a nice variety of both light and dark beers, with a few specials on tap as well. I really wanted to try the 7 Stern Chilli, but stuck with the more early-afternoon friendly Helles.

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1516 Brewery:

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1516 Brewing Company brewed the best beer we had while in Vienna. Their IPA, named after Nick Foles’ uhhh talent, was our favorite, but the Victory Hop Devil (also Super Bowl themed) was also really great too. I’m just sad that we didn’t have enough of an appetite to eat because their menu was amazing.

Blue Mustard:

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via Facebook

If The Great Gatsby and Tron had a baby, it would look like Blue Mustard. The bar is gorgeous and the drink menu featured an amazing version of a Bloody Mary (see below) and more importantly a drink named after the GOAT that is Keanu Reeves.

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Clearly I have a new obsession with the Bloody Mary + teacup collaboration.

They also feature a late night food truck for after hours food, making this one of my favorite new spots in Vienna.  The prices are a little high, but definitely worth a stop if you’re looking for a fun speakeasy in Austria’s capital.

Prague, Czech Republic

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We visited Prague to see Franz Ferdinand and they had an AMAZING show.

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Not start of WWI Franz, THIS Franz.

Not only was seeing them live a dream come true for not only the Ashlyn of my youth, but also current old-man-Ashlyn is STILL super freaking impressed by the band’s energy and talent. They played their hearts out and it was so fun after a week of bad news to just dance around like a crazy person. If you have the chance to see them play I’d 10000% recommend it.

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Alex Kapranos literally never stopped moving.

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SO MANY PEOPLE.

Coffeepark:

We brought Ike with us to Prague and I wanted to treat him to extra cookies since he was without his brother and sister (although Ike was enjoying the #onlychildlife haha). Of course nearly every place in Prague welcomes pups, but with the different changes in elevation throughout the city, bringing home cookies for old-man-Ike was the safest option for his little legs (or maybe we should invest in a dog backpack).

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Coffeepark is such a cute stop for a light breakfast/lunch and they even include options for your dog! I was really regretting not getting that puppy backpack for Ikers, but he definitely enjoyed all the treats we brought back for him.

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LEMONADE

Bakeshop:

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Ike: “Where is my croissant?”

Bakeshop is a great place to stop for a quick snack, breakfast, and/or coffee. They have a huge selection (although they do run out of bagels quickly on the weekend, so get up and there if you’re feeling a rye+cream cheese) of items including to-go boxes of sides and full meals. We bought a few sandwiches and snacks for the drive home.

BeerGeek Bar & Pivotéka:

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BeerGeek Bar & Pivotéka is one of our favorite new craft beer stops in the city. Located right on the line between Prague 2 and 3, it is definitely worth the short walk from Old Town. The have 32 taps along with a huge selection of bottled beers from all across Eastern and Western Europe, as well as a couple of options from the US.

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Probably more important for Chris than the beer selection, however, are the wings. Spicy and extra crispy (via their website as Chris ate his before I could take a proper picture).

Cheers, friends!

— ❤

Currently listening: Always Ascending by Franz Ferdinand

Currently reading: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

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Vienna, Austria

 

All You Need is Ice Cream: Szigliget, Hungary

 

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Our amazing friends from Charleston visited last year and we all took a trip to Lake Balaton for the first time. I’m actually pretty ashamed that I haven’t been to Balaton (although we had a trip scheduled before I caught the flu during my birthday) but it was great to experience Central Europe’s largest lake with them.

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Also, can we just talk about how amazing Heather and Karl are to smuggle SIX biscuits with them from Charleston (EVO Bakery) all the way to Hungary?

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 7.46.38 PM.pngSzigliget (Hungarian for “island park” ) is a village located on Balaton, about an hour (and crazy-bumpy) drive away. Balaton is a freshwater lake and its name stems from the Czech word meaning “sinkhole, deep end of a lake.” A huge tourist destination for Hungary, Balaton has a ton of different towns and villages dotting the coast. Because the average temperature of the water is 77 degrees F in the summer, most visitors either swim, paddleboard, or hang out on one of the beaches.

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The many travel sites on Balaton.

Balaton is a shallow lake and runs across the Bakony Mountains. While one large lake today, Balaton was originally five smaller lakes that formed together over time. During the third century, the area experienced a great deal of volcanic activity, which helped shape the landscape of now-Szigliget and Badacsony Mountain. In 1954, mining was halted at the mountain and a national park was established to protect the unique landscape, wildlife, and vegetation that makes up this portion of Balaton.

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Badacsony Mountain also boasts a unique wine region due to the volcanic soil.

The village of Szigliget is located on the northern side of Balaton, near Badacsony. Built on and between volcanic hills, the village has beautiful views of the lake, an adorable center of town, and has an old fortress/castle that is easy to tour. Originally an island that was connected to Balaton in 1822, the first settlers occupied this area during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. While the lake was much deeper during this time–making uncovering artifacts more difficult–archeologists have found a number of tools that can be attributed to the first people that lived near Szigliget.

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View from the top of the fortress.

Originally built as a fortress, Szigleget Castle was transitioned to an official castle after the king fell in love with the design and location in 1262. Over time “the Castle of Balaton” exchanged hands, was added to and torn apart, and even was used for its original purpose as a fortress. After the Turkish occupation of Hungary, the castle lost its importance and due to lack of care and erosion, fell into disarray. In the 1600s, the castle nearly burnt completely down after catching fire from a lightning bolt; due to its loss as a primary military tool, Kaiser Lipot I had Szigleget Castle demolished (and many of the villagers used the debris to build their homes) to most of the ruins that can be seen today. Many parts of the castle (now owned by the village Szigliget) were rebuilt and the area was turned into a park that celebrated its 755 year anniversary in 2015.

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Szigliget Castle today (Via BetweenEuropeEastandWest.wordpress.com).

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How the castle may have looked before destruction.

The hike up to the castle is pretty easy, with a ton of markers detailing the wildlife and vegetation native to the area.

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Chris: “Can I smoke here?”

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Conquerors of Szigliget

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The castle also includes a playground, although I felt like this swingset reminded me of Nigel Thornberry from the Wild Thornberries.

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You can’t unsee it.

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#ClassicKarl being a creep

Szigleget is a small village (less than 3,500 people) and is one of the quieter and more authentic stops on Balaton. They also have the best ice cream ever! As is custom with traveling with Heather, we have to eat ice cream in every town.

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Umbrellas decorate the walk to the small center of town.

Várkávézó

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Wise words to live by.

Várkávézó Szigliget is an absolute must-stop ice cream stop, no matter if you just happen to find yourself casually driving past Balaton or intentionally are visiting the area. The pistachio flavor was on point. Their flavors change with the seasons, but they are really diverse and unique. I love this Yelp review of the shop:

We live in Szekesfehervar, which is about an hour and a half away. Living in Hungary, we, like nearly everyone else, has an ice cream, on average…. every day of the year. I swear. If you took away beer or ice cream, Hungary would stop working at all. With that said, as you might imagine, Hungarians are experts on ice cream and are all aficionados. We are no exception.
These guys imported Italian machinery and use only in season fresh fruits, nuts and sweets to create their ice cream. It’s so good that twice, we’ve driven the hour and half, each way, just for the ice cream when there are at least 10 ice cream places within walking distance from our house. Seriously. No joke.

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The best.

 

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Ice cream in Pápa

 

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Larry Nassar Abuse Part 6: “I’ve Signed Your Death Warrant” & Holding Enablers Accountable

(Check previous blogs for parts 1-5)

A lot has happened this week. As Larry Nassar receives his final sentencing in the largest sports sexual abuse case in the United States, let’s recap all the things that went down the past few weeks as we look forward to creating institutional and cultural change.

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Survivors give victim impact statements in court.

Larry Nassar

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Nassar (middle) about to be sentenced by Judge Aquilina.

Ingham County Sentencing

Last week, after hearing 156 victim impact statements (almost double the number of survivors that originally came forward) Judge Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison for abuse in Ingham County. In her final statement, Judge Aquilina referenced to the letter written by Nassar, which accused her of being media-hungry, blamed the media for “sensationalizing” the court, and that he “was a good doctor because my treatments worked… I was so manipulated by the [attorney general] and now Aquilina, and all I wanted was to minimize stress to everyone. The FBI investigated [my Olympic medical treatment] in 2015 because nothing was wrong. Now they’re seeking the media attention and financial reward.”

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SLAY.

Judge Aquilina threw the letter on the floor and stated:

“This letter, which comes two months after your plea, tells me that you have not yet owned what you did. That you still think that somehow, that you’re right, that you’re a doctor and you’re entitled. That you don’t have to listen and that you did treatment. I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir. There’s no treatment here. You finally told the truth.

Your decision to assault was precise, calculated, manipulative, devious, despicable. I don’t have to add words because your survivors have said all of that and I don’t want to repeat it. You can’t give them back their innocence, their youth. You can’t give a father back his life, or one of your victims her life when she took it. You can’t return the daughter to the mother. The father to the daughter.

Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2100 months. I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

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Accurate representation of me and a friend screaming in a Bratislava speakeasy as we watched the sentencing on my phone.

While there was some criticism for how severe Judge Aquilina spoke to Nassar, the point of this hearing was to provide each survivor with the chance to read their story; this was part of his plea bargain agreement. Many women openly thanked Judge Aquilina in court, online, and even Simone Biles called her a hero on national television. She is a hero for standing up and commending these tremendous women for coming forward after years of being ignored and harassed.

Shannon Smith: “There is a huge part of me that does not believe that every one of those girls was victimized by him.”

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Shannon Smith (left) released statements discrediting the number of women that have forward against her client.

Shannon Smith stated last week that she felt that many of the women speaking against her client were not, in fact, victims of abuse at the hands of Nassar but that, “There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar — and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas and even penetrations.”

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For the record, his “treatments” were performed without gloves, proven to be sexual abuse and not an actual medical procedure, without parental consent, and without a guardian present. She continued:

“Some of those girls, to be quite frank, they didn’t even know what to think because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they’ve seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that’s really unfortunate.

I have a very hard time believing that my client could have even possibly assaulted that many people day in and day out in front of their parents, and that every single one of those things was a crime, but he was such a manipulator he got away with it. I just can’t imagine that’s true.”

Smith herself was criticized in a number of victim impact statements for her behavior in the courtroom, where she was seen laughing and texting while survivors spoke.

ESPN noted the statement by former gymnast Madison Bonofiglio:

“she knows of ‘at least 10’ other friends who have chosen not to file reports despite being abused by Nassar. She said some decided it wasn’t a good time for them to do so, and others ‘didn’t think it had happened to them enough.’

‘It really makes me sad that some of my best friends think that because they were only assaulted by Larry five or 10 times that wasn’t enough to matter,’ Bonofiglio said. ‘I think this really matters.'”

Father Attacks Nassar: “I’m not here to upstage my daughters. I’m here to help them heal.”

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During the Eaton County statements Randall Margraves, a father of three survivors, asked Judge Cunningham for five minutes alone with Nassar. When she denied his request, he attempted to attack the man who abused his daughters. The Judge stated that she “cannot tolerate or condone vigilantism or any other type of action that basically comes down to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” but did not press any charges against Margraves.

Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis added: “This is letting him have this power over us,” she said. “We cannot behave like this. I understand this is a remarkable situation. But you cannot do this. This is not helping your children. This is not helping your community. This is not helping us.”

Eaton County Sentencing

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Judge Cunningham sentences Larry Nassar to 40-125 years.

This week, Eaton County Judge Cunningham sentenced Nassar to another 40-125 years in prison, bringing his total to 360 years for both the child pornography and sexual abuse charges. Judge Cunningham stated:

“The depth of the tragedy is incomprehensible. It spans the country and the world. It has impacted women, children and families of varying ages, races and walks of life. Individuals that have suffered physical and emotional harm as a result of your actions live all over the country and the world. I have heard statements of individuals that live in Michigan, Delaware, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Chile, London and France. It is also evident that there are an infinite number of victims that still have not been heard from or counted.

Your criminal conduct did not just hurt the victims, but it also hurt everyone who cared about them. Your conduct has impacted every aspect of the lives of each of the women and the young girls. I have heard and considered each of their stories. Their stories are not redundant, even though many of the descriptions of the grooming by the defendant were eerily similar. One victim made the observation that often one victim is seen as a tragedy, but 100 victims are seen as a statistic. That concern is understandable. It is not true in this courtroom. The ramifications of each person that you meet, and each person’s thoughts and feelings, are important. Each voice and each story does make a difference.”

During the sentencing, Nassar began filling out his appeal against the federal child pornography charges; he asked to be appointed an attorney as he can no longer afford representation.

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John Geddert and Twistars

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Geddert with World Champion Jordyn Wieber at the 2012 Olympics. Jordyn, now the Volunteer Assistant Coach for UCLA, testified against Nassar. She is a former athlete of Geddert.

The Eaton County hearing was not only important because it provided a space for survivors to speak, but also to potentially hold accountable the enablers who allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue for 20 years, specifically in the Twistars gym.  Many of the survivors in both counties discussed the mental and physical abuse they suffered at the hands of coach John Geddert, who owns Twistars in Eaton County.

Geddert and Nassar played “good-cop, bad-cop” according to a number of former athletes. As Geddert abused his gymnasts physically (forcing Bailey Lorencen to continue training with a broken bone in her back, an injury she was lucky to not be paralyzed as a result of the continuous training, and throwing Makayla Thrush into the bars, tearing stomach muscles that ended her career) as well as mentally (Makayla Thrush stated that John “told me to kill myself not just once, but many other times. After you ended my career, I tried.”) allowed Nassar’s grooming for abuse. His sympathetic comments and understanding allowed him to build trust with Geddert’s athletes. He also was given access to gymnasts visiting Twistars for competitions. Nassar was the only doctor allowed to provide athletes with medical notes to miss practice; Geddert refused to give time off to athletes that did not see his preferred doctor.

In 2011, Geddert was accused of harassing the parent of an athlete outside of his gym, including physically assaulting her. In 2013, he was accused of assaulting an underage athlete by following her into the locker room, stepping on her toes, and pushing her into a wall. The 2011 case was dropped by the Assistant Prosecutor because pushing the woman did not constitute as assault. Larry Nassar stepped in on Geddert’s behalf after the 2013 incident occurred; he pleaded with the 11-year old’s grandmother (via text) to not press charges against the coach. USAG investigated both events in 2014, but did not take action against Geddert.

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USAG WERE YOU GOOD FOR ANYTHING?

In mid-January, as numerous victim statements showed the extent of abuse at Twistars, USA Gymnastics suspended the 2011 World Championship and 2012 Olympic Team Head Coach. Days later he sent an email to the families of his athletes explaining that he was retiring. He then transferred ownership of his gym to his wife. The Eaton County Sheriff’s department is now conducting a criminal investigation against Geddert.

Michigan State University

MSU President Resigns

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MSU President Simon gives a sincere apology for her lack of transparency and refusal to see herself as part of the problem at a university that has been under investigation for covering up sexual abuse for years. Oh, wait.

On January 24th, Michigan State University’s President Lou Anna Simon resigned from her position amid growing allegations of her mishandling of the Nassar abuse. Simon was accused of allowing Nassar to continue seeing patients while being investigated by police, creating a culture of abuse within the university with zero transparency of assault cases brought by students of MSU, and not being present in the courtroom while athletes presented their statements.

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Former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke was one of the most outspoken of Simon’s handling of the case.

Rather than take responsibility as MSU President, she said in her statement: “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

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MSU Athletic Director Resigns

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MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned days after Simon. The 2012 Athletic Director of the Year was under scrutiny for mishandling abuse claims brought against Nassar, most notably for the 2014 report by recent graduate Amanda Thomashaw. The Title IX investigation, which cleared Nassar of all charges due to the testimonies of his MSU colleagues, could have stopped the abuse of potentially hundreds of women if handled correctly by Hollis. At the end of the investigation, MSU sent two different reports to Thomashaw and Nassar.

Here is the conclusion Thomashow received: 

“We cannot find that the conduct was of a sexual nature. Thus, it did not violate the Sexual Harassment Policy. However, we find the claim helpful in that it allows us to examine certain practices at the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic.”

And Nassar’s copy:

“We cannot find that the conduct was of a sexual nature. Thus, it did not violate the Sexual Harassment Policy. However, we find the claim helpful in that it brought to light some significant problems that the practice will want to address.

We find that whether medically sound or not, the failure to adequately explain procedures such as these invasive, sensitive procedures, is opening the practice up to liability and is exposing patients to unnecessary trauma based on the possibility of perceived inappropriate sexual misconduct. In addition, we find that the failure to obtain consent from patients prior to the procedure is likewise exposing the practice to liability. If procedures can be performed skin-on-skin or over clothes in the breast or pelvic floor area, it would seem patients should have the choice between the two. Having a resident, nurse or someone in the room during a sensitive procedure protects doctors and provides patients with peace of mind. If ‘touching is what DO’s do’ and that is not commonly known, perhaps the practice will want to consider a disclaimer or information sheet with that information provided to the patient up front.”

While Nassar was not charged (he was also allowed to see patients while under investigation) MSU did “implement” a number of practices to protect the university, including requiring the doctor to wear gloves, having another person in the room during examinations, and obtaining consent. MSU Dean William Strampel admitted that he did not follow up on those new requirements.

In addition to the mishandling of the abuse allegations against Nassar, ESPN reported that Hollis kept incidents of sexual assault by football and basketball players quiet:

Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also has deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.

It is also important to note that in November 2017, Title IX regulations were rolled back, which can make reporting abuse even more complicated for survivors of assault.

USA Gymnastics

USOC Forces USAG Board To Step Down

Aly Raisman (left) and Jordyn Wieber (right) wait to share their impact statements.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) asked all members of the USAG Board of Directors to resign or the organization would lose status as the governing body for artistic gymnastics. The USOC stated: “We do not base these requirements on any knowledge that any individual USAG staff or board members had a role in fostering or obscuring Nassar’s actions. Our position comes from a clear sense that USAG culture needs fundamental rebuilding.”

On January 26th USAG responded that they “completely embraces the requirements” of the USOC and all board members resigned from their positions.

While this is an important step for USAG, it is important to note that the USOC has long supported USA Gymnastics and their handling of the Nassar abuse. 2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman roasted USOC’s position by stating:

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Get em girl.

National Team Coordinator Resigns

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In a shocking development this week, Valeri Liukin stepped down as the National Team Coordinator for the women’s gymnastics program. Liukin, a Soviet Olympic Champion, is the owner of the famed World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Plano, Texas. The gym has produced a number of World and Olympic champions, and NCAA scholarship athletes; WOGA athletes include Carly Patterson, who won the 2004 Olympic All-Around and 2008 Olympic All-Around Champion, Nastia Liukin, also Valeri’s daughter.

After running the developmental program under Marta Karolyi, Liukin was chosen by Marta to replace her following the 2016 Games. While Liukin has produced success in 2017 (difficult after the Olympic year) a number of past stories of abuse have tainted his success as NTC. Former gymnast Katelyn Ohashi stated on her blog that Liukin’s training practices left her with an eating disorder and emotional abuse:

“It started when I was 13, barely weighing 70 pounds. I’ve been told I looked like I swallowed an elephant or a pig, whichever was more fitting that day. I was compared to a bird that was too fat to lift itself off the ground. If I ‘looked’ bigger on a given day, I had to run and condition with heavy sweats until it seemed like I was ‘ready’ to start practice. I’ve even been asked to sign a contract that would basically prohibit me from training if I did not lose weight.”

Vanessa Atler, a 2000 Olympic hopeful, switched gyms leading up to the Olympic Trials;  this abrupt change from her home gym during the Olympic year was unusual and the Karolyis reportedly asked Liukin to take her on as an athlete at WOGA. In an interview Atler said that Valeri did not like his gymnasts to drink water because it made them look “bloated” and that she was weighed several times per day:

“I’m such an emotional eater and if I’m stressed about something, I’ll just eat, eat, eat. It was the first time where if I wasn’t losing weight, I’d go and eat more food because I was stressed about it. It was just a horrible thing.

I started throwing up for a little bit just because he weighed us three times a day, which is insane…We had this paper in his office where they have a scale, you’d weigh in the morning and you’d write down your weight and then after workout, you’d write down your weight and at nighttime, for the last workout, you’d write down your weight, which is so stupid because it just doesn’t mean anything.”

Liukin responded to Atler’s claims that overall, they had a positive working environment, and he has changed as a coach since 2000.

 

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Atler (left) in 1998

 

A number of other gymnasts have come forward with similar stories of training with WOGA and under Liukin. Former gymnast Mattie Larson, who was part of the 2010 World Championship team, stated in her victim impact statement: “It truly bothers me that one of the adults that treated me this way, making me feel completely invisible, is the new national team coordinator, Valeri Liukin. It troubles me that he is now in that position, and I hope for the sake of current and future national team members, that he has changed.”

While it is unknown whether Liukin–again, handpicked by Marta to replace her as NTC–was under pressure from the USOC or USAG to resign. Many of the current athletes have praised him as the National Team Coordinator. In his statement, Liukin said:

“I was truly looking forward to trying to turn this program around and bring success to our country and the gymnastics community. But the present climate causes me, and more importantly my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty,” he said in a statement.

It is time to move on in a different direction, at least for now. I wish the coaches and athletes continued success, and I stand ready to encourage and support all of them from a different vantage point.”

The Ranch Is Shut Down

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In mid-January, USAG cut ties with the Karolyi Ranch, the previous National Training Center. After Simone Biles stated she did not want to return to the NTC where Nassar abused her and other athletes, USAG responded that they would in fact, change locations.

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On January 30th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate the Karolyi ranch following the testimonies and statements by survivors of Nassar’s abuse. Again, I want to quote Mattie Larson on the extent of the physical and emotional abuse of the Ranch, as well as the sexual abuse she suffered there:

“There is an eerie feeling as soon as you step onto the Karolyi Ranch. It is completely removed from all civilization. In the case of an emergency, the closest hospital is so far away you’d need to be helicoptered there. To get to the ranch, you must drive up a dirt road for what seems like an eternity. And the closest civilization is a high-security prison 30 miles away. On top of that, there’s no cell service. It’s completely isolated, and that is no mistake. That is how the Karolyis wanted it.”

Larson described the grueling seven-hour practices six days a week that she and her teammates endured at the Karolyi Ranch, saying she “dreaded” going back every summer. After spiraling into a deep depression and “destructive” eating disorder at 15, Larson said she deliberately hit her head on a bathtub to get out of going back to the ranch.
“One time, I was so desperate not to go, I thought faking an injury bad enough was the only way out,” Larson said as she began crying. “I was taking a bath when I decided to push the bath mat aside, splash water on the tiles, get on the floor and bang the back of my head against the tub hard enough to get a bump so it seemed like I slipped…  Marta, did you keep Larry around because he was a good doctor? Or did you really keep him around because he let us compete when we were injured and was willing to keep your secrets?”
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Mattie reading her victim impact statement.

The Ranch should have been closed years ago for a number of reasons. USAG is holding a verification competition later this month at LSU to choose athletes for a number of upcoming competitions.

The Federal Government Gets Involved

At the end of January, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill 406-3 that would implement new reporting requirements of sexual abuse.The bill requires all sports organizations to report abuse to law enforcement.

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I feel like this is Reporting Abuse 101, but if it makes reporting assault mandatory and holds those that don’t report accountable. So please sign this into law.

As we continue to see the allegations stack up against MSU, Geddert, and USAG, the big push in the next coming months will be translating these abuse statements into actual, tangible conditions, both in terms of culture, infrastructure, and at the local, regional, and institutional levels. Rachael Denhollander, one of the first accusers to come forward against Nassar said she “wouldn’t be here had the adults and authorities done what they should have done 20 years ago.” Following the Nassar case, she ended that the survivors would now help change ” the institutional dynamics that led to the greatest sexual assault scandal in history.”

Required Viewing/Listening: Mattie Larson Impact Statement and gorgeous 2010 routine

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Kraków, Poland: The Time I Tried to Beat the Pierogi Record

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(Warning: I do discuss concentration camps in this post)

I LOVE POLAND! Last summer I visited Kraków with a couple of friends and had an amazing experience. Being of Polish descent, I’ve been dreaming of visiting the country since we moved to Hungary in 2016.

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As people who know me already know, pierogi are my absolute favorite food (if you don’t know what a pieróg is please read this first before continuing and also reassess your life) so of course I visited Poland with the goal of beating the world record for pierogi consumption. That is until I realized that record is held by Joey Chestnut, who ate 165 pierogi in eight minutes.

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Not all heroes wear capes.

I did my best while in Kraków (literally eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) but I didn’t come close to achieving Chestnut’s record; however, this is just an excuse to make more trips to Poland (side note: Cleveland, Ohio–a city with a large Polish population–holds the record for the largest pieróg ever made).

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This is part one of my Kraków trip because I want to devote an entire post to our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I’m mentioning this here because if you’re planning on seeing Kraków, Auschwitz is only a 30-minute drive from the city and is absolutely a must tour.

Where are we?

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Kraków (Cracow), Poland is only a six-hour drive from our town. The second largest city in Poland, Kraków is also one of the oldest, dating back to the 7th century. Located on the Vistula River, the city’s name is derived from the Proto-Slavic word “krak”, which translates to “staff” or “oak”. The city was first founded by Krakus, the prince who led the Lechitians, a Polish tribe. Legend states that Krakus famously slayed the dragon of Wawel Hill (more on that later).

Like many of the cities in Eastern Europe, WWII drastically changed the culture and population of Kraków. During the German occupation, Kraków became the capital of the General Government following the invasion of Poland by the Germans in 1939. Hans Frank, it’s ruler, lived in Wawel Castle; the castle is located in the center of Kraków, on Wawel Hill, and on the Vistula River. The goal of the Germans was to Germanize the city by removing all aspects of Polish language, culture, and the people who lived there. As a result, academics were sent to Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps while Jews living in Kraków were first confined a portion of the city known as the Kraków Ghetto before being sent to various work and concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

The Nazis then renamed the streets and sites of Kraków to German titles and even produced propaganda detailing how the city was historically German. Because the city was loved by the Germans, most of the historical architecture of Kraków remained intact during the war. Poland suffered heavy losses of human life during WWII (16-17% of its population).

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The Sites:

Main Market Square (Rynek Główny):

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Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa w Krakowie) is the only remaining part of the old Kraków Town Hall that was demolished in 1820.

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Krakow Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) is one of the main attractions in the square.

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Inside the Cloth Hall

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St. Mary’s Basilica was built in the 14th century. Every hour a trumpet plays Hejnał Mariacki, a five-note Polish anthem, from the highest tower.  The title Hejnał Mariacki comes from a Hungarian expression that translates to “Saint Mary’s Dawn”. The tune stops mid-stream in remembrance of the 13th-century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while warning the city of a Mongol attack.

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St. Mary’s Basilica was nearly destroyed by the Mongols but was rebuilt on its old foundation in 1320.

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The interior of St. Mary Basilica.

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Old Town is known for its art, musicians, and crafts. Unfortunately (or fortunately? Still undecided) for us, the musician near our apartment only played Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and The Cranberries’ “Zombie”. Over and over.

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Old Town

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Grodzka street leading toward Wawel Castle.

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The Church of St. Adalbert (Kościół św. Wojciecha) was built in the 11th century.

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The Church is named after Saint Adalbert, whose body was purchased from Prussia for his total weight in gold.

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Interior of St. Adalbert

Wawel Castle

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Grodzka Street leading to Wawel Castle

While people have inhabited the area that is now Wawel Castle since the Paleolithic Age (WHAT), the first ruler of the Polish state chose this site as his home in 966. The castle itself was built by Casimir III the Great in 1333; It’s one of the largest and oldest castles in Poland.

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The legend of the dragon that terrorized residents of pre-Kraków settlements is an interesting part of the city’s history:

From that day on there was no peace in the village. Daily, the dragon would appear to carry off a victim. Sometimes a sheep, or dreadfully, a child or even a grown man. The villagers called the hideous creature “Smok”. Men banded together to try and slay the dragon, but their primitive weapons were no match for the thick scales of the dragon. Many men died in the attempt to rid the village of this terrible curse.

In the same village lived a wise man named Krakus. Some thought him something of a magician, for he would mix herbs to heal the sick. The villagers came to Krakus to ask for his help. Krakus thought for a long time, studying his jars of herbs and things, and all the while murmuring to himself. Then he started to mix up a paste. He summoned the villagers to bring a sheep to him. He covered the poor sheep with the unpleasant mixture and carrying it up the hill, threw the sheep inside the cave.

After several suspenseful moments, there came the sound of the great dragon roaring and bellowing its way down to the Vistula River. The mixture that the sheep had been coated with caused a great burning inside the dragon. It drank and drank until it began to swell. Some say it drank half of the Vistula River that day. Still it drank to quell the relentless burning in its gut. Suddenly, there was a great explosion and the dragon burst!

The people rejoiced at the demise of the fearsome creature. They were so impressed with the wisdom of Krakus that they invited him to rule over them. They built a stronghold at the top of the hill and below it, the city prospered under his rule. The city was named Krakow in honor of Krakus. When Krakus died the people gave him a magnificent burial, and erected a mound over his tomb, bringing the dirt with their own hands. It has endured throughout the centuries as a lasting monument to their wise and brave King.

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The castle and cathedral show nearly all forms of European architecture: medieval, baroque and renaissance.

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Wawel Castle holds the Polish Crown Jewels and is a UNESCO site.

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The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill (królewska bazylika archikatedralna śś. Stanisława i Wacława na Wawelu) is over 900 years old and is considered a Polish national sanctuary.

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The Cathedral (katedra wawelska) is also the coronation site for Polish monarchs.

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The Cathedral is also the main burial site for Polish monarchs.

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View of the Vistula River from the castle. Legend holds that Krakus’s daughter Wanda drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight.

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You can tour the Dragon’s Den located under the castle (please excuse my horrible picture), a cave in the side of Wawel Hill that formed 25 million years ago. During medieval times, these rooms served as both a tavern and brothel.

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Now the dragon is a statue outside of the castle that breathes fire every few minutes, terrifying the unsuspecting children (okay, I was caught off guard too) walking nearby.

Kraków Jewish Ghetto:

We took a guided tour around the Jewish Ghetto the Nazis created during WWII. Kraków’s Ghetto was one of five created by the Nazis to control, deport, and murder Jews and other people (including Roma, gay men, people with disabilities, persons of color, and many more) they found “unworthy of life.” The German occupation of Poland provided a large population of people that were transported and murdered during the Holocaust.

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Map of the Jewish Ghetto in Kraków.

At the time of the German invasion, 60,000-80,000 Polish Jews lived in Kraków. In 1939, the Nazis required all Jews to report for forced labor, then wear mandatory armbands. Hans Frank stated that Kraków should be the “racially cleanest” city in General Government and as a result, the deportation of Jews started in 1940. Of the 68,000 Polish Jews living in Kraków before the invasion, only 15,000 were allowed to remain as workers. They, and their families, were resettled in the Podgórze district of Kraków (known as the Kraków Ghetto) in 1941:

 Previously inhabited by a little over 3, 000, the Krakow Ghetto was spread over a few dozen streets in and around Zgody Square (since renamed Bohaterow Getta Square), containing some 320 tenement buildings. A 2-3 metre high wall was raised along the perimeter of the Krakow Ghetto, crowned by a line of arcs reminiscent of Jewish tombstones, tragically prophetic – portions of which remain today…

Windows facing onto the outside world were bricked up and the gates were strictly policed. Krakow Ghetto became desperately overcrowded: each new resident was allocated a mere 2m2 of living space. Life in the Krakow Ghetto was a constant struggle: food was scarce and hunger became the gravest affliction; sanitation was sorely inadequate and the German command grew increasingly brutal and inhumane.

There were many instances of resistance within the Ghetto walls including the Akiva Youth Movement, Jewish Fighting Organization, and the Polish underground (Armia Krajowa). In 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Kraków Ghetto. Many were sent to the Krakow-Płaszów concentration camp, Bełżec death camp, and Auschwitz. Those unfit for work (2,000 people) were shot in the streets of Kraków.

Today, you can tour the Kraków Ghetto and see the many memorials that were built to commemorate the people and violence that occurred there.

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Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa)  was built in the early 1900s.

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Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta) holds 33 memorial chairs to commemorate the atrocities that occurred in this once bustling center. The original entrance of the Kraków Ghetto is at the entrance to the Square.

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The last remaining wall of the Kraków Ghetto wall.

Our tour guide actually lives in Podgórze and one thing I found interesting is that her building still retains the bricked windows facing the “Aryan” side of the city.

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory: Museum of Wartime Kraków:

Oskar Schindler was a German businessman and Nazi who saved 1,200 Jews during WWII. Schindler owned a number of factories in occupied-Poland and employed Jews in Podgórze originally because their labor was cheaper than Poles, but then he continued to employ and protect his Jewish workers throughout the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto.

“Schindler’s Jews” as they became known, included men, women, and children of all ages. Schindler was able to protect them from deportation through his connections within the Nazi party, the vital role his factories played in the war effort, and by constantly making exemptions for the skills of his workers.

Towards the end of the war, Schindler’s bribes and black-market dealings became more and more suspicious, but he was able to protect his workers from deportation. Even when they were accidentally sent to the Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz concentration camps, he was able to manage their safe return to the factory. While Schindler isn’t the only German who helped protect Jews during WWII, he is arguably one of the most famous, due in large part to the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.

Schindler’s Podgórze factory was converted to one of the most amazing and interactive museums I have visited in Europe. I highly recommend making a trip if you can. I took a ton of pictures, but didn’t want to post them all here; I think it takes away from the overall experience and sheer “whoa!” factor of the museum.

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Can you imagine being the person who had to place the swastika tile? The museum details how Kraków was invaded by the Nazis and the steps taken to destroy the country’s Jewish population.

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Enamel products made at the factory.

Restaurants:

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The beautiful bakery next to our apartment.

Marchewka z Groszkiem (Peas and Carrots):

THE ABSOLUTE BEST PLACE. Marchewka z Groszkiem was highly recommended by friends of a friend who have lived in Kraków for years; I’m so thankful they told us about this adorable restaurant. With so many amazing options to choose from, I just basically ordered enough food for five people (no regrets) and loved every single thing. Look at this menu!

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Pierogi! These are spinach+sheep’s cheese and sauerkraut+mushroom. The dessert dumplings were amazing too (sweet cheese and cream sauce).

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Crispy potato pancakes with sour cream

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Green pea and carrot soup

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Local Kraków beer

Da Pietro:

We had dinner at Da Pietro our second night day in Kraków. It was such a beautiful day and after a long afternoon of sightseeing, we wanted to grab food near our apartment. Thankfully they have a good menu with a ton of options and great drinks, along with outdoor seating so you can see the sites in the square.

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Spinach, gorgonzola, pears, and walnuts on a pizza.

Chtopskie Jadto:

My first pierogi in Poland! Chtopski Jadto is a cute little restaurant with a ton of different pierogi options. I prefer a crispier potato pancake, but the pierogi were great. In Poland you choose whether you want your pierogi fried in addition to boiled, so make sure to ask! You could also order 30 pierogi to go, which looking back, I should have done.

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Ruskie: Potato, onion, and white cheese

Tiffany Ice Cream:

Recommended by a friend, Tiffany Ice Cream is the absolute best ice cream I’ve had in Europe. Please note Monica (on the right) with her four scoops like a freaking badass.

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Pod Noseum:

We stopped at Pod Noseum on our way to Wawel Castle. The first floor of an executive hotel, it was definitely the most upscale of the restaurants we visited. Their special that day was mushroom pierogi, so you know that my obvious choice. They were amazing.

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Random Starbucks Coffee:

We stopped at Starbucks before leaving Kraków and I had the best/most embarrassing Starbucks experience of my life. When I asked for a black coffee, the barista replied, “like your soul?” which made my day.

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After paying, I swung my backpack back onto both shoulders (#twostrapping) and a bottle of Polish vodka flew out of my bag and broke into a thousand pieces all over the floor. The entire Starbucks smelled like plum vodka at 10am.

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Me deciding whether to run, cry, laugh, or hide.

Thankfully, the barista was very nice and even refused to allow me to help mop up all that wasted liquor.

Kraków is one of my favorite cities and if you have the chance to visit, definitely make time to see it. While I crossed Kraków off my list of places to see, it’s absolutely top of the “need to visit again asap” list.

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— Ashlyn

Watching: Peaky Blinders Season 4

Reading: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Part 5: MSU’s System of Enabling

To recap, please read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

So far, I’ve really given Michigan State University a pass and that ends today. Most of the known facts of the Larry Nassar crimes and cover-up came from USA Gymnastics and former USAG elite athletes. Sure, MSU was mentioned because Nassar was employed by the institution for decades, but most of the knowledge of the now-largest sexual abuse case in the history of sports in the United States put a majority of the blame on how USAG royally dropped the ball on 1) protecting athletes from a serial pedophile and 2) covering up Nassar’s (and many other abuser’s) crimes.

Michigan State not only knew about Nassar’s abuse in 1997, but maybe earlier.

Now with the over one hundred victim statements read in court–and this will probably increase as more survivors come forward–we are getting a greater picture of not only MSU’s involvement, but also the system of enabling that gave Nassar his power.

There are three main players in this game: USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and John Geddert’s and his gym, Twistars. I’ve talked at length about USAG and a little about MSU and Geddert, but today, I am specifically detailing MSU’s System of Enabling.

I just want to start with this simple fact: not one MSU employee has yet to be fired.

1997: “I was silenced. I just wasn’t going to say anything else.”

Larry Nassar began working at Michigan State University after finishing his primary care medicine fellowship at the institution in 1997. He was hired as a team physician and assistant professor. This is the year following the 1996 Atlanta Games where he was seen carrying Kerri Strug after her famous vault that clinched the first team gold medal for the American women.

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Nassar reaches for Strug at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

In addition to his duties at MSU, Nassar also worked as a team physician at Holt High School and continued working with coach John Geddert, who opened his new gym, Twistars, also in 1996. Because of his busy schedule, Nassar also “treated” patients in the basement of his home and MSU. It was there, in 1997, that the first documented case of abuse occurred that was largely ignored by Michigan State.

Larissa Boyce was sixteen years old the first time she met Larry Nassar and was treated in the basement of MSU. She was a gymnast with Spartan Youth Gymnastics, a program for upcoming gymnasts that was coached by MSU’s Gymnastics Head Coach Kathie Klages. After Nassar molested her, Boyce and a 14-year old unnamed friend (also a gymnast in the program, who states she was abused as well) approached Klages and described the abuse. Klages refused to believe that Nassar, being a person she trusted for years, would be abusing gymnasts. Instead, she insisted that the girls were mistaken and the treatment was legitimate. An ESPN interview with the athletes states:

“I was silenced. I just wasn’t going to say anything else,” Boyce says.

“They just kept it quiet, and that is what’s so hard — knowing that if adults were to make the right decision and do the right thing at the right time, that the abuse could have stopped,” the second gymnast says.

In her victim statement last week, Boyce said: “Larry had adults on his side, protecting him, enabling his abuse and helping him achieve a God-like status… You and Kathie silenced me… You took away my confidence. You took away my innocence, and you took away my voice, but today is a new day. Today, I am claiming my freedom from you.”

Klages did not report the complaints to the police or university officials; instead, she told Boyce: “I can file this, but there are going to be serious consequences for you and Nassar.” Michigan law requires teachers and school administrates to notify police of suspected abuse. While the occupation of coaching is not blatantly included in the law, attorneys have included coaches under the “teacher” role.

1999: “He’s an Olympic doctor and he should know what he is doing.”

In 1999, MSU runner Christie Achenbach made a complaint about Nassar’s abuse to the Assistant Running Coach, Kelli Bert. Bert stated that she did not remember the conversation, but that if it did happen, she would have reported the complaint to Michigan State. No report was filed.

2000: “I felt like they thought I was a liar.”

Nassar began abusing Tiffany Thomas Lopez, a scholarship softball player, in 1999. In 2000, she notified four people at the institution that she felt that Nassar’s treatments were actually sexual abuse but was ignored. In an interview she stated that, “Initially I was told, ‘No, this was not a sexual assault. This is by the book.’ And then I was told that ‘this is something Dr. Nassar has created to help you and the pain you’re in.’ So it was as if he was the mastermind behind this new treatment.”

Two of the four trainers– Lianna Hadden and Destiny Teachnor Hauk–are still employed by Michigan State University.

 

2002: “There are people that are hesitant to speak up because they think a victim wanted to be assaulted.”

In 2002, Jennifer Rood Bedford also told Lianna Hadden that Nassar was sexually abusing her: “In the end, she wanted me to understand that filing a report, it would involve an investigation, making an accusation against Nassar and statement that I felt that what Nassar did was unprofessional or criminally wrong.” In a 2017 statement to police, Hadden stated that she never had one athlete complaint against Larry Nassar.

2004:  “I was basically choking, and I said, ‘I. Was. Not. Lying.'”

Kyle Stephens is the only non-medical survivor to have come forward against Nassar. Last week, she was also the first person to read her survivor statement at Nassar’s sentencing. Family friends with the Nassar’s, Stephens was six years old when he first started molesting her. At age twelve, she began recognizing the acts as abuse and told her parents. In 2004, her parents spoke to Michigan State professor and clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Stollak and Nassar. Following the meeting, Stephens’ parents forced her to apologize to Nassar for the allegations she made against him.

Her parents, especially her father, did not believe her. Prior to leaving for college, Stephens again told her father that the abuse was not a lie. Finally believing her, Stephens’s father committed suicide in 2016.

Dr. Gary Stollak was required by law to report sexual abuse but did not notify authorities. He retired from Michigan State in 2010 and testified that he suffered a stroke following his retirement that severely alters his memory. Stollak also stated that he disposed of his clients notes as well.

2014: “I was ignored and my voice was silenced.”

Amanda Thomashow was a recent graduate of MSU when she was abused by Nassar: (warning: graphic language below)

Thomashow — who had kept her identity concealed until this week — told the investigator Nassar worked on her shoulder and massaged her breast “like your boyfriend would while you were making out with him,” according to the report.

She tried to stop him, but Nassar continued, massaging her over the top of her clothes and then moving his hands underneath her sweat pants.

“He began to massage her with three fingers in a circular motion in her vaginal area,” according to the Title IX report. “She states that he was extremely close to inserting a finger into her.”

She immediately reported to MSU the abuse that occured in Nassar’s office. MSU began a Title IX investigation; the police department also started a separate criminal investigation. The IX report includes interviews from Dr. Brooke Lemmen, Dr. Lisa DeStefano, Dr. Jennifer Gilmore (all MSU specialists) and Destiny Teachnor Hauk. Lemmen, DeStafano, and Gilmore were all colleagues of Nassar and told police that the treatments were not abuse. The Title IX complaint stated that Nassar was not at fault.

Michigan State did not notify USAG or Twistars that Nassar was under investigation. He was allowed to continue to see patients while the complaint was under review. According to police records at least twelve women were abused by Nassar during this time.

DeStafano and Gilmore are still employed at MSU. Lemmen resigned from MSU in 2017 after she discovered that the university was considering firing her after the administration found out that she had: “‘removed ‘several boxes of confidential treatment records’ from Michigan State University’s Sports Medicine Clinic at Nassar’s request, according to documents in her personnel file that the Lansing State Journal obtained Friday through the Freedom of Information Act.”

2016: “She just kept defending him.”

Former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke was first abused by Nassar in 2008. She saw him “at least three times a week for three years” until she switched gyms. During her collegiate career, she transferred from the University of North Carolina to MSU, where she saw Nassar once.

In December 2016, as allegations against Nassar mounted, Lemke’s parents became concerned that Lindsey too was a survivor and she stated that, yes, she was among the group of women abused by Nassar. She called MSU Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages, who assured her that the abuse was in fact a legitimate treatment. Klages also asked her gymnasts to write a letter of support to Nassar when he was first arrested.

In January 2017, Lemke filed a lawsuit against MSU and Klages was suspended two weeks later (she retired the next day). In her victim statement to Nassar, Lemke stated:

“Shame on you,” she said of Michigan State.

She said she was terrified of what the university would do to her because she came forward. Lemke said Michigan State “created an environment where victims were afraid to speak up.”

Lemke addressed Kathie Klages, Michigan State former women’s gymnastics coach, who allegedly was told of abuse in 1997 and remained silent for years. Lemke said that Klages deserves to to be behind bars with Geddert and Nassar.

“To (Michigan State President) Lou Anna Simon: You are no president of mine as a student and former athlete of MSU. Guess what? You’re a coward too,” Lemke said.

You can watch Lindsey’s statement (AND YOU SHOULD) here.

To recap:

  • 1997: Nassar began working for MSU
  • 1997: First complaints of abuse about Nassar to Klages.
  • 1999: Abuse is reported to Kelli Bert.
  • 2000: Complaints of abuse to athletic trainers Lianna Hadden and Destiny Teachnor Hauk.
  • 2002: Complaints of abuse reported to Lianna Hadden.
  • 2004: Dr. Gary Stollak hears allegations of abuse.
  • 2014: Title IX Complaint filed. Dr. Brooke Lemmen, Dr. Lisa DeStefano, Dr. Jennifer Gilmore, and Destiny Teachnor Hauk defend Nassar’s treatments.
  • 2016: MSU athlete reports abuse to Kathie Klages

Major Players in the System of Enabling

  • Kathie Klages: Former Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach of MSU and retired in 2017. Klages previously worked for John Geddert (along with Nassar) and after retiring from MSU, resumed working for Geddert for a period of time.
  • Lianna Hadden: Still employed at MSU
  • Destiny Teachnor Hauk: Still employed at MSU
  • Kelli Bert: Former Head Coach at MSU
  • Dr. Brooke Lemmen: Still employed at MSU
  • Dr. Lisa DeStefano: Still employed at MSU
  • Dr. Jennifer Gilmore: Resigned from MSU in 2017 after removing Nassar’s records from the university.
  • Dr. Gary Stollak: Retired from MSU in 2010.

 

I don’t want to compare different criminal acts of abuse. There are currently hundreds of Nassar survivors coming forward, and there could potentially be thousands. If we look at the last large-scale sexual abuse acts at the institutional level–Penn State–then Michigan State NEEDS to be held accountable. The university currently employs those that helped enable Nassar to abuse athletes and children for over twenty years. Their President has not resigned. In the case of Penn State, three administrators were sentenced to charges of child endangerment after Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of abusing ten young boys.

Little Girls Don’t Stay Little Forever. They Grow Into Strong Women that Destroy Your World. 

-Kyle Stephens

Current number of victim impact statements as of day 5 are 158 (originally slated for 88 survivors to speak).

 

 

 

 

Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Part 4: “No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others.”

For a background on the largest sexual abuse case in the history of the United States, please read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Yes, this is the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of the United States. The now 140 athletes that have filed lawsuits against Nassar is nearly as many survivors as “the Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein scandals combined.” Today, January 16th, Larry Nassar faces not only his sentencing, but also the victim statements from the survivors of his abuse; The Michigan Attorney General had to set aside several days for the expected 88 individuals to share their stories. Because of Nassar’s plea agreement, if found guilty, he can receive anywhere from 25 to 40 years to life in prison. This sentence is added to the already 60 years he was given for possession, and filming of, child pornography.

The cases against Nassar, USAG, and MSU have quickly developed further over the past week. Let’s get up to speed.

“I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols.”

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Maggie Nichols in 2015.

As noted in previous posts, the first complaint made about Nassar to USAG was filed in 2015 by an unnamed coach who overheard athletes discussing his “treatments” at the National Training Center (Karolyi Ranch) in Texas. The coach spoke with Senior Vice President of the Women’s Program, Rhonda Faehn, who then reported to the head of USAG at the time, Steve Penny. This week, World Champion and now NCAA National Champion Maggie Nichols came forward as the person referred to as “Athlete A” in the case; the gymnast that sparked the investigation into Larry Nassar. In her statement she notes:

Recently, three of my friends and former National Team members who medaled at
the 2012 Olympics have bravely stepped forward to proclaim they were sexually
assaulted by USA Gymnastics Team Physician Dr. Larry Nassar.
Today I join them.
I am making the decision to tell my traumatic story and hope to join the forces with
my friends and teammates to bring about true change.
Up until now, I was identified as Athlete A by USA gymnastics, the US Olympic
Committee and Michigan State University. I want everyone to know that he did not
do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols.
In the summer of 2015, my coach and I reported this abuse to USA Gymnastics
leadership…

Dr. Larry Nassar was regarded throughout the sport as the very best by coaches and
staff throughout the gymnastics community. He was a doctor at Michigan State
University and the Olympic and Team USA doctor assigned to us by USA Gymnastics
at the Olympic Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch. He was supposed to care for us
and treat our injuries. The first time I met Dr. Nassar I was about 13 or 14 years old
and receiving treatment for an elbow injury. At the time it seemed like he knew
exactly what therapy was necessary for me to recover. Initially, he did nothing
unusual.
But when I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp
at the Karolyi Ranch. This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.
My back was really hurting me, I couldn’t even really bend down, and I remember he took me into the training room, closed the door and closed the blinds. At the time I thought this was kind of weird but figured it must be okay. I thought he probably
didn’t want to distract the other girls and I trusted him.

I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I
really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he
was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing
because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve
my pain.
He did this “treatment” on me, on numerous occasions.

Not only was Larry Nassar my doctor, I thought he was my friend. He contacted me
on Facebook complimenting me and telling me how beautiful I looked on numerous
occasions. But I was only 15 and I just thought he was trying to be nice to me. Now I
believe this was part of the grooming process I recently learned about.
One day at practice, I was talking to my teammate, and brought up Dr. Nassar and
his treatments. When I was talking to her, my coach overheard. I had never told my
coach about these treatments. After hearing our conversation she asked me more
questions about it and said it doesn’t seem right. I showed her the Facebook
messages and told her about what Nassar was doing. My coach thought it was
wrong, so she did the right thing and reported this abuse to the USA Gymnastics
staff.
USA Gymnastics and the USOC did not provide a safe environment for me and my
teammates to train. We were subjected to Dr. Nassar at every National Team Camp
which occurred monthly at the Karolyi Ranch. His job was to care for our health and
treat our injuries. Instead, he violated our innocence.
I later found out that Michigan State University had ignored complaints against
Larry Nassar from other girls going back 20 years and had investigated him for
sexual assault in 2014. They never told USA Gymnastics. If they had, I might never
have met Larry Nassar and I would never have been abused by him.

A few things that are important to remember and have been consistent with each survivor coming forward:

  • The abuse started when she was underage and at USAG sponsored events (competitions, traveling, required training camps)
  • Nassar groomed her by giving her compliments and providing comfort during stressful times (training camps).
  • She was told that Nassar was “the best” and that the girls were lucky to be seen by him.

While USA Gymnastics was notified of the abuse in the summer of 2015, the organization took five weeks to report Nassar to law enforcement and also failed to notify Michigan State University, where Nassar was working after being quietly “let go” from his position with USAG. Similarly, MSU did not speak to USAG when, in 2014, an athlete came forward about Nassar’s treatments; her story did not constitute as a policy violation.

The 2015 World Championship Team (From left to right-back to front: Gabby Douglas, Brenna Dowell, Madison Kocian, Maggie Nichols, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Mykayla Skinner)

After filing the complaint, CEO Penny called Nichols’s parents Gina and John to “discourage [them] from reporting Nassar’s conduct to law enforcement and pressured them to keep the matter quiet.” Gina told Sports Illustrated:

“I got a phone call probably the next day [from] Steve Penny,” Gina told SI. “He called me, I don’t know how many times, to talk to me about it and make sure that I understood they were taking care of it. When I have the president of USA Gymnastics telling me what to do, he’s in a position of power over me. We’ve given our whole family up to get our daughter to this point and [when] I have Steve Penny telling me this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to be quiet, I’m going to listen to him. I’m not going to jeopardize my daughter’s chance of going to the Olympics.”

Maggie’s mother was interviewed by CBS News and details the extent of the control USAG had over the athletes: “He was allowed as an adult man in his mid-forties or fifties to do whatever he wanted to as a physician with no supervision, we never gave parental consent….Nobody was ever in the room. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted to with his bare hands. We couldn’t even stay in the same hotels with her when she competed for our country all over the world, but then they allowed a molester to do whatever he wanted to our daughter as a minor. But we were supposed to trust USA Gymnastics. It’s not OK… Where are the other adults that were at the Olympic training center, allowing this to go on.”

After Maggie’s statement, USAG responded with the following:

USA Gymnastics admires Maggie Nichols’ bravery and encourages our athletes and others, like Maggie, to share their personal experiences with abuse. We are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career. USA Gymnastics is focused every day on creating a culture of empowerment that encourages our athletes to speak up about abuse and other difficult topics….

Contrary to reported accusations, USA Gymnastics never attempted to hide Nassar’s misconduct. The suggestion by plaintiff’s counsel John Manly, who indicates that he is representing Maggie, that USA Gymnastics tried to silence athletes or keep the investigation secret to avoid headlines before the Rio Olympics and to protect Los Angeles’ Olympic bid is entirely baseless. USA Gymnastics kept the matter confidential because of the FBI’s directive not to interfere with the investigation.

USA Gymnastics reported Nassar to the FBI in July 2015 and to a different FBI office again in April 2016. When Maggie’s comments were relayed by her coach to the organization, USA Gymnastics immediately contacted her parents and hired an experienced, independent investigator to speak with her and others at a mutually agreed date and time. The information that Maggie and later a second athlete provided was important, but did not provide reasonable suspicion that sexual abuse had occurred…

USAG stated that they hired “an experienced, independent investigator to speak to her and others.” This investigator, Fran Sepler, stated that she was in fact “not hired as an investigator, I was only hired to conduct several interviews by USA Gymnastics who indicated they were conducting an investigation into allegations and needed someone who was a skilled interviewer.” Maggie’s dad, John, states, “When the Fran Sepler interview was arranged, I was under the impression that this was the FBI investigator. We were never told who she was, what her position was, and so we thought it was part of the FBI investigation.” Sepler is also the person who interviewed Aly Raisman on behalf of USAG.

Following the pressure to keep quiet, Maggie and her family were not contacted until a year after she first filed her complaint, days prior to the 2016 Olympic Trials. During this time, Nassar was still practicing both at Michigan State University and the Twistars Gym Club in Michigan.

The day following the USAG press release regarding Maggie, Aly Raisman responded Twitter: “STOP VICTIM SHAMING. Your statements are hurtful. If you did not believe that I & others were abused than why pressure & manipulate us? WE WERE MOLESTED BY A MONSTER U ENABLED 2 THRIVE FOR DECADES. You are 100% responsible. It was mandatory to get “treatment” by Nassar.”

Twistars and Michigan State University are “Immune to Liability”

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This week Michigan State University and Twistars filed motions to dismiss because they believe they were not liable to protect athletes from abuse. In 2014, a complaint was brought against Nassar by a MSU student; while the complaint against Nassar was dismissed, the university did implement several protocols that Nassar was found to have abused in 2016, leading to his termination at the university.

Dr. Jeffery Kovan (former head of MSU sports-medicine clinic), Dr. William Strampel (former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine) and Kathie Klages (former MSU gymnastics coach) are the three former MSU employees listed as co-defendents in the lawsuits. MSU believes Kovan and Stampel, formerly in charge of Nassar, should be excluded from the lawsuit as they filed the graduate student’s complaint with police (law enforcement later cleared Nassar of the charges). The complaint, filed with police and Title IX stated: (explicit language below)

The woman alleged Nassar massaged the woman’s breast, even after she said it was not helping with her hip pain, she alleges in her lawsuit. He then massaged her vaginal area under her underwear, even after the woman told him to stop, the lawsuit says. The woman had to physically remove Nassar’s hands from her body, the lawsuit said, and she noticed Nassar had an erection.

Nassar was suspended for three months after the 2014 complaint were filed. He was allowed to return to work after he was cleared by the Title IX investigator.

However, the plaintiffs’ lawyers point out that Nassar was allowed to see patients while still under investigation by MSU police and that Michigan State never notified USA Gymnastics of the 2014 allegation involving Nassar.

While Klages received complaints about Nassar from multiple athletes over the years, because she was not Nassar’s supervisor, MSU states that she too should be released from liability (Klages, it should be noted, required her athletes to write cards to Nassar when he was arrested; she was released from her position in 2017). In their motion to dismiss the university as a co-defendent, MSU attorneys stated: “With the benefit of hindsight, Plaintiffs contend that MSU should have known that Nassar was a predator or done more to prevent his criminal conduct. But that is not the standard  by which Title IX liability is measured.”

 

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John Geddert at the 2012 Olympics.

Head Coach John Geddert of the Michigan club Twistars also filed a motion to dismiss his liability regarding athletes abused by Nassar in his gym. Geddert was the Head Coach of the 2011 World Championship Team and 2012 Olympic Team; both teams have not only three known survivors of Nassar’s abuse, but 2011 was also the competition in which Maroney details the assault where she was drugged and woke up with Nassar in a hotel room. His attorneys stated that “neither Geddert nor Twistars is required to report suspected child abuse, based on the state’s Child Protection Law, which lists mandated reporters.”

Geddert was listed as a co-defendant by a few of the first survivors to come forward to IndyStar in 2016. One survivor testified that Geddert walked in and made a joke when she was being “treated” by Nassar: (graphic statement below)

VICTIM G: “I remember, John, my coach walking in and that’s kind of why I remember because I did feel uncomfortable that he was in there.”

AG: “And then what happened?”

VICTIM G: “Mostly all I remember is him doing the treatment on me with his fingers in my vagina and massaging my back and with a towel over my butt and John walking in and making a joke that I guess my back really did hurt and then I was uncomfortable because John was in there during that.”

Geddert also came under scrutiny when he hired former MSU coach Kathy Klages as a  “fill-in” in his gym. After initially denying the report, Geddert admitted she did in fact worked a few days at Twistars.

These suits are similar to the one filed by USAG that also states the organization was not required to report instances of abuse.

Marcia Frederick “Forced” To Come Forward After Complaints are Ignored

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Three days ago, the first ever World Champion for the United States came forward with not only her story of abuse at the hands of her coach, but how USAG ignored her complaints and allowed him to continue to train gymnasts. Marcia Frederick won the gold medal on uneven bars at the 1978 World Championships, marking the first time an American woman earned a world title in Artistic Gymnastics. Frederick was coached by Richard Carlson, a man she says abused her from the age of 16 (right after she won her gold medal) until her retirement from the sport at 18.

Frederick first told other coaches, the organization, and other adults about the abuse in 1980 but was ignored. She alleges that “Carlson had her engage in sex acts” for two years while she trained and competed for the United States. “Two years,” she said, “For me seemed like 10 years.” Her frustatrations with the failure of USA Gymnastics to continue allowing Carlson to coach even after her interview with the organization in 2011 forced her to go public this week.

In 2011, USAG interviewed Frederick regarding coach Don Peters, a National Team Coach accused by three teenagers of forcing them to have sex with him in the 1980s. In November of 2011, Peters was banned from the sport. He also coached Nassar survivor Jeannette Antolin before the ban. While Frederick denied that Peters had abused her, she told the organization that Carlson, who continued to coach gymnasts in 2015 and instructed at USAG-sanctioned clinics, had. USAG responded that the investigation only concerned Peters, not Carlson, and no further action against Frederick’s coach was taken. Two days before Nassar left USAG in 2015, Frederick lodged a formal complaint against Carlson with USAG after her 2011 interview was largely ignored.

Carlson’s attorney stated: “I guess he would deny any of her allegations dealing with impropriety,” Colleluori said, “Rick just wants to live a nice, quiet life.” Colleluori added that Carlson has considered suing Frederick for defamation but “he won’t do it. He’s too good of guy.”

Simone Biles is Third Member of Final Five to Publicly Come Forward

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Yesterday, the most decorated American gymnast in the history of the sport joined her teammates in coming forward with allegations against Nassar. Her statement, released on Twitter, describes her abuse and struggles with publicly discussing surviving sexual abuse. Biles, who won four gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics and is arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, is also known for her outgoing personality and love for the sport:

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Here is the response from USAG:

“USA Gymnastics is absolutely heartbroken, sorry and angry that Simone Biles or any of our athletes have been harmed by the horrific acts of Larry Nassar. We are our athletes’ advocates. USA Gymnastics will continue to listen to our athletes and our members in our efforts of creating a culture of empowerment with a relentless focus on athlete safety every single day.”

To which I have one reaction:

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Sure, Jan. Okay.

To Recap: 

The Case Against USA Gymnastics:

While USAG may believe they held no liability for athlete safety and that they handled the sexual abuse allegations with accordance to the law, the point here is that they DO and they DIDN’T. This organization made its money off of the backs of the girls and women who won gold medals and the clubs and organizations that pay to be a part of the USAG organization. USAG created a culture of abuse, then turned its back on the athletes that sacrificed so much for their sport, protecting the molester that abused them instead. Here’s a recap:

  • Gymnasts were not allowed to have their parents or guardians with them at the mandatory monthly training camps held at the National Training Center OR at domestic and international competitions. Cell phones were also limited at the National Training Center.
  • Nassar was allowed to tend to gymnasts in their hotel rooms and the rooms they occupied at the National Training Center.
  • When allegations against Nassar were filed, USAG insisted to the parents of Maggie Nichols not to report to police, that their silence was needed for a more thorough investigation; they finally reported the abuse to the FBI five weeks later.
  • The “investigator” (USAG’s words) sent to interview Nichols and Raisman was not an investigator at all, but rather a person that specializes in sexual harassment and work disputes. When asked to speak to her a second time, Raisman was denied and also told to remain quiet, that the organization was handling the case.
  • USAG allowed Nassar to quietly leave the organization in 2015 and did not notify Michigan State University that he was under investigation for sexual abuse; Nassar continued to treat athletes at the university.
  • In 2016, USAG filed a settlement with 2012 Olympian McKayla Maroney for $1.25 million to remain silent on her abuse at the hands of Nassar.
  • In December, USAG files a motion to dismiss as they have “no legal duty to protect plaintiffs from Nassar’s criminal intent”.

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Now What?

Nassar should be sentenced this week or next (depending on how long the 88 victim statements take to read) and will most likely serve the rest of his life in prison for both the abuse and child pornography charges. That small comfort–knowing that he can not hurt another person–I’m sure is at least a little justice for the more than 140 women that have come forward and the countless others that most likely have not shared their story.

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Simone and Aly in 2016.

While this case does not have the publicity that Weinstein or Penn State has received, the fact that so many high profile athletes have come forward–Maroney, Raisman, Douglas, and Biles–has propelled the allegations into a greater light. With the #metoo and #timesup campaigns gaining more traction, I believe women are feeling more comfortable with coming forward. There’s strength in numbers.

On the other hand, these campaigns and the public statements from such high profile athletes has made others question the legitimacy of their claims, which I fear will grow as more people tell their stories of abuse. I want to take the remaining space to combat some of that.

My New Years Resolution was to stop reading online comments but this morning I couldn’t help but take a peak. Simone Biles was truly THE gymnast of the 2016 games and most people know her (or of her) because of her endorsements and TV appearances. Finally, I thought, this abuse would reach even greater headlines (which is a shame because the popularity of the gymnast shouldn’t result in more people knowing about Nassar, but that is the world we live in). Wow, was I wrong. I could screenshot some of these comments, respond to their words, but instead I am just going to answer the most popular and disgusting comments I saw today:

I don’t want to hear about all the pervs out there. Give it a rest. Whether you like it or not, these “pervs” are out there and it is through these voices that we learn more about how perpetrators abuse their victims. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. We DO need to talk about this. We DO need to teach every single person consent and signs of abuse. “Stranger Danger” is fine to teach, but you are more likely to be assaulted by someone you know. #metoo and #timesup might make people feel uncomfortable because there are a ton of stories now public. It can be overwhelming, I get that. But for many survivors of assault, these stories ring true. If it makes you uncomfortable, good. You’re learning that a lot of instances are buried, un-reported, or simply not discussed. We shouldn’t have to “give it a rest” when there is real work that needs to be done.

What happened, her endorsements dry up, need some cash now? Not that it matters, but Simone’s net worth is close to $3 million. As athletes, Simone, Aly, and McKayla went pro prior to their respective Olympics and did make money off of their medals and endorsements. Maggie, Jamie Dantzscher, and Antolin, for example, remained amateur athletes; they didn’t accept a dime and instead went on to compete in college on an athletic scholarship. Steve Penny, the CEO of USAG, was fired from the organization last year and given a $1 million severance package, nearly the same amount the organization gave to Maroney in an attempt to (illegally) keep her quiet. Because these women have come forward as survivors of assault does not mean they will even see a penny from the lawsuits. The organization however, made money from clubs, elite competitions, and endorsements, while simultaneously protecting a pedophile. Biles, for example, may not even be one of the survivors that are a part of the lawsuit; if she is, that shouldn’t matter. The abuse still happened to her, as a child and against her will, at the hands of a pedophile.

I wonder about these claims. Having a very difficult time believing these women! A majority of victims of abuse are the ages of 12-17. 93% of these

Maggie, Simone, and Aly in 2015.

cases are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. Two out of three instances of assault go unreported for many reasons including fear of retaliation and not understanding if the act was actually assault. EDUCATE YOURSELF. It is not the obligation of survivors to come forward. These athletes were conditioned that Nassar was the best and they were lucky to be seen by him. I am sure the number of gymnasts coming forward has given the more recently public survivors the confidence that they have each other, unlike the MSU student or Marcia Frederick, whose independent stories of abuse were largely ignored. Former gymnast Kathy Johnson-Clark said: “If we don’t at some point connect the dots to say, ‘You know what, this goes so far back,’ it’s going to keep going on in the future.”

On the other side, there has been a ton of support from fans and athletes. Thankfully, many of the survivors will have their day in court today, but a lot won’t. Regardless of the sentencing, we need to look at the structures, factors, and mentalities that allowed Nassar to abuse so many people for so long. Changing the culture and institutions–this is by no means an isolated instance of abuse–is the real victory for us moving forward.

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Via Oklahoma’s Twitter. Maggie is a returning sophomore and reigning National Champion with the Sooners.

 

Special thank you and appreciation to Gymcastic for their unrelenting coverage of this story.

Currently Listening To: Uncivil Season 1