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Courtroom applauds Nassar whistleblower

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina offered her praise to Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast who first made ex-USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar's abuse public in a September 2016 Indy Star story. The courtroom gave Denhollander a standing ovation.

Posted: Jan 25, 2018 3:12 PM
Updated: Jan 25, 2018 3:12 PM

Larry Nassar will likely be remembered as the most prolific child molester in sports history.

More than 100 women told a judge about his abuse as a USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor -- but an MSU trustee said there's more going on "than just this Nassar thing."

Trustee Joel Ferguson's comments to local radio station WVFN triggered widespread backlash -- and an eventual apology.

In Monday's interview, Ferguson commented on what had been said at a previous MSU board meeting. The interview came before the school announced Tuesday it would be polling faculty members on whether MSU's faculty senate should hold a vote of no confidence on MSU President Lou Anna Simon.

Even before Ferguson's interview, MSU leadership was facing widespread criticism over Nassar's abuse. Victims included children and teens who sought treatment at the doctor's on-campus office.

Many former gymnasts have demanded that Simon resign, saying that she mishandled the Nassar scandal.

But in a radio interview Monday, Ferguson defended the MSU president. He said the board of trustees spent 10 minutes of a recent five-hour meeting speaking about Simon.

"It's hard to pick out what people want to hear right now. I would just say that the board, the meeting we had the other day was five hours, and talking Lou Anna was 10 minutes," Ferguson said Monday.

"We had so many other things we were going over, and we unanimously decided in that meeting right away that Lou Anna ... we were going to support her staying as the president, because there are so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing."

Ferguson credited Simon for getting donors to contribute to "the new Breslin" arena, where MSU's basketball teams play.

He also said Nassar's victims may benefit financially, and that MSU's "senior people were not complicit in what this pervert did."

"I think the young ladies who have been wronged by this person ... you can never use money to completely make over people's pain and suffering, but there's going to be something happening in their favor," Ferguson said.

"I think that when people find out that this person was on an island by himself, I think they'll move on, and we'll keep the university moving."

The fallout and apology

Backlash against Ferguson's comments came swiftly on Twitter, including calls for the trustee to resign.

On Wednesday, the trustee's spokesman sent a statement to CNN with an apology from Ferguson.

"Joel Ferguson deeply regrets the inadvertent comment he made on a local radio program that trivialized the experience of the victims of Larry Nassar," Ferguson's spokesman Josh Hovey said in the statement.

"He recognizes the suffering of these young women and had intended to refer to the incident as 'the Nassar tragedy.' Mr. Ferguson deeply regrets his comment and apologizes to those he offended."

Shortly after Nassar was sentenced Wednesday, Rachael Denhollander -- the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse -- lambasted Ferguson's radio comments.

"He stated that other good things at MSU have to be considered, too -- like the incredible new basketball stadium," Denhollander said. "It's nice to know that over 200 sexual assault victims rank below a basketball stadium."

Michigan State has maintained that no official believed Nassar committed sexual abuse until newspapers began reporting the allegations during the summer of 2016. Any suggestion that the university engaged in a cover-up is "simply false," an MSU statement said last week.

But the NCAA has launched an investigation into how MSU handled sexual abuse allegations against Nassar.

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