July 24, 2018

Senator Hassan Confronts Michigan State Interim President for Disparaging Survivor of Larry Nassar’s Abuse

Commerce3

Click here for footage of the Senator’s exchange with Michigan State University Interim President John Engler.

 

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan today confronted Michigan State University Interim President John Engler for disparaging Rachael Denhollander, a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse.

 

During a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing entitled, “Strengthening and Empowering U.S. Amateur Athletes: Moving Forward with Solutions,” Senator Hassan said to Mr. Engler, “I am appalled by the email you sent earlier this year, disparaging Ms. Denhollander, a gymnast who was abused by Dr. Larry Nassar under the watch of Michigan State and others. Your treatment of this issue raises concerns about how MSU will move forward here. Even with all the evidence, why did you doubt Ms. Denhollander?”

 

After Mr. Engler responded, “The email, of course, was in the midst of our very difficult negotiation and it was private, it was never public,” Senator Hassan interrupted, telling him:

 

“When you write an email referring to athletes as being manipulated, not only are these strong, accomplished, smart athletes who have overcome enormous barriers in their lives to reach the pinnacle of their sport. They have survived unspeakable abuse, and the notion that you think they could be manipulated by trial lawyers, and that you would speak of them that way is just deeply, deeply offensive. Private email or not it, it reflects an attitude at the top of the institution that you’re asking this committee, your current students, your current athletes, your alumni to trust, and I think you have some repair work today to put it mildly.”

 

Click here for video of the Senator’s questioning or see below for the full exchange:

 

HASSAN: Last question to Mr. Engler please. One of the things that concerns me the most – it has been shocking and saddening – is that the individuals have come forward, and they have not only had to relive their worst nightmares to tell their stories, but when they do, they are often still not being believed or their motives and personal character are attacked. And I am sorry to say that you recently made remarks doing just that. I am appalled by the email you sent earlier this year, disparaging Ms. Denhallander, a gymnast who was abused by Dr. Larry Nassar under the watch of Michigan State and others. Your treatment of this issue raises concerns about how MSU will move forward here. Even with all the evidence, why did you doubt Ms. Denhollander?

 

ENGLER: The email, of course, was in the midst of our very difficult negotiation and it was private, it was never public. And it reflected, I guess, just the passions of the moment about whether or not there were referral fees being paid. The reality is that our actions today I think have consistently shown our support for the survivors and that is what we have to create. We have to have a culture of accountability —

 

HASSAN: I’m going to interrupt you Mr. Engler, I’m sorry. When you write an email referring to athletes as being manipulated, not only are these strong, accomplished, smart athletes who have overcome enormous barriers in their lives to reach the pinnacle of their sport. They have survived unspeakable abuse, and the notion that you think they could be manipulated by trial lawyers, and that you would speak of them that way is just deeply, deeply offensive. Private email or not it, it reflects an attitude at the top of the institution that you’re asking this committee, your current students, your current athletes, your alumni to trust, and I think you have some repair work today to put it mildly.

 

[APPLAUSE]

 

ENGLER: Well, I think you’re right. That’s why I apologized.

 

HASSAN: Well, thank you for the apology. I just want to note that we keep applauding survivors of abuse for coming forward. And then even though we say the right words, we haven’t yet really taken a look at the adults and institutions who were in charge and held them accountable. And what we do is we keep trying to make excuses for this unbelievable horror that these young people have experienced, and it really needs to stop. We need to take responsibility here. Michigan State needs to take responsibility, the committees need to take responsibility, and we need to change laws and hold people accountable. And I know that is what this hearing is about, I know that’s what we’re trying to do here. But at the end of the day, private email or not, disparaging these survivors takes all of the good work that so many people are trying to do to make sure this never happens again and moves us backward.

 

ENGLER: Senator, I appreciate that, as I said, that is why I apologized. I have three daughters, age 23, exactly the same age as many of the survivors and I know exactly what you’re talking about. I recognize in my own family what could’ve happened. And I feel very deeply, that is why we worked so hard once I’d been at Michigan State to fix the problem. When you’re in litigation with eleven firms, emotions do get high, it’s an adversarial process. And I do confess to getting very frustrated. But, at the end of the day, we did get the settlement done. We have fixed the policies, we’ve strengthened accountability. Mr. Chairman, I’d like to submit for the record an executive order that I did to create the office of risk management, ethics and compliance. It’s part of the actions that as Senator Blumenthal said, there’s a lot of talk out there, there’s a lot of support, but at Michigan State we are fixing the problem. You could not have a Larry Nassar again at Michigan State. You’ve got a challenge I think on the part of all universities, and a lot of organizations, to fix the relationships between the sexes, and how do we deal with assault and misconduct. But I would argue that we hope that what we have done at Michigan State can be a model for others. And I brought also two articles that are excellent articles, one from Midland Daily News, a local paper in my own district, one from the Bleacher Report. These are survivors’ testimonies just as you said where the media told the story, they got it out, and it helps explain how challenging this is to fix. But I feel this deeply from a personal standpoint. And my actions have been consistent with my belief that this should never happen again. No future woman should have to go through what these women have gone through.

 

HASSAN: And one might suggest that they never should’ve needed to sue the university in the first place. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

 

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