Journalist Emily Lawler visited SMU Thursday evening to discuss her reporting on Olympic doctor Larry Nassar and his sexual abuse of female athletes.
More than 60 students and faculty members attended Lawler’s presentation, “A Predator at Michigan State” to discuss the controversy surrounding Michigan State University and its former physician, Dr. Larry Nassar. According to Lawler, a reporter for MLive, it is estimated that Nassar sexually abused more than 150 young women during his time as a team physician at MSU. Many female gymnasts and other athletes complained of the abuse that was disguised as medical examinations. Nassar was recently sentenced to 40-175 years in prison.
Lawler covered the scandal for more than a year and published her first article about Nassar in February of 2017. She went on to publish three deep-investigative articles as well as co-author smaller episodic articles regarding the case. Initially, Lawler’s story did not receive positive reactions.
“It’s a hard story to read because you put yourself in the victim’s shoes” Lawler said. “This could have happened to anybody… its uncomfortable and it’s about an institution that is immensely popular.”
For Lawler, the story was personal. She is a graduate of MSU and active in her community. She told her audience about the difficulties of covering a story that may affect her former university and her community negatively.
“You want to protect your institution and at the same time help the institution with its mistakes,” Lawler said. “This is disturbing content and to see it happen somewhere you are close to is mind-blowing.”
Complaints about Nassar surfaced as early as 2004; however, despite dozens of victims coming forward, many news articles regarding the story were pushed under the rug. According to Lawler, MSU’s response was to distance itself from any liability.
“The university says it had no idea… but they could have stopped literally hundreds of sexual assaults,” Lawler said.
Many of the students that attended the event very intrigued to hear about the controversy. Sophomore Kate Adams was shocked at the alleged abuse, but was even more stunned that the story went unnoticed for so long.
“I know it takes a lot of courage for victims to come forward, but I couldn’t help but think about the other people who might have noticed that something wasn’t right and didn’t say anything about it,” Adams said. “It [reinforces] the importance of intervening and speaking up.”
Sophomore Rachel Warren agreed with Adam’s statement, and praised Lawler for her perseverance.
“I admired Emily for being strong enough to push through all the barriers protecting [Nassar],” Warren said.
Lawler credits her success to the women on her management team.
“We are an all-female team…we approach news differently,” Lawler said. “When you’re interested and your company supports you it all comes together.”
Lawler is looking forward to continuing her investigation of Nassar and MSU in the months to come.
“I’m trying to pinpoint how this could happen at MSU, how do we understand this incident, and how we can prevent it,” Lawler said.
As she wrapped up her discussion, Lawler left students with some advice for the future.
“It’s okay to question authority, it’s okay to question institutions you respect” she said. “Sometimes your instincts are stronger and smarter than what people are telling you.”