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Ex-Gov. Tom Corbett: Parallels exist between Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nassar scandals

Debra Erdley
| Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, 4:36 p.m.
Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett talks to the Tribune-Review at the Trib offices in the North Side on Monday, July 21, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett talks to the Tribune-Review at the Trib offices in the North Side on Monday, July 21, 2014.
Larry Nassar listens to victims during his sentencing hearing after being accused of molesting more than 100 girls while he was a physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University where he had his sports-medicine practice on January 17, 2018 in Lansing, Michigan.
Getty Images
Larry Nassar listens to victims during his sentencing hearing after being accused of molesting more than 100 girls while he was a physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University where he had his sports-medicine practice on January 17, 2018 in Lansing, Michigan.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett can't believe the Jerry Sandusky saga didn't prompt anyone at Michigan State University to dig deeper when reports of sexual abuse surfaced against a sports medicine doctor accused of abusing scores of young gymnasts over decades.

As more than 100 young women, including several Olympic medalists, stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom to give tearful statements during Dr. Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing, observers and commentators marked the parallels between Nassar and Sandusky: a revered figure connected to a Division I athletic program at a large state university is accused of multiple counts of child sexual abuse over a period of decades and finally faces a lengthy prison sentence years after university officials dismissed allegations against him.

Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for molesting 10 boys in and around Penn State facilities. Then-university President Graham Spanier was ousted days after the scandal broke on his watch. Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting laws were strengthened, and Penn State ultimately paid $250 million, including $109 million to settle lawsuits from about three dozen men who said Sandusky molested them.

Nassar, 54, admitted molesting female athletes during medical treatment when he was employed by Michigan State and USA Gymnastics. He has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography crimes and faced a minimum of 25 to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually molesting seven girls.

Already the courts have docketed more than 140 lawsuits against Michigan State, Nassar and USA gymnastics.

Corbett launched the Sandusky investigation as attorney general and then sat on the Penn State Board of Trustees as governor. He said the Sandusky case that generated national headlines should have been a red flag for officials at any university dealing with similar allegations.

"Did they not read anything about it and think 'Look at what happened to Penn State. It could happen to us,' " Corbett said.

A Detroit News investigation suggests similarities in how the cases unfolded.

Last week the newspaper reported that 14 women approached Michigan State coaches and staffers with complaints over two decades during which Nassar worked for both the university and USA gymnastics. One of those complaints generated a police report and a Title IX sexual harassment investigation, word of which reached the university president's office in 2014 before being found baseless.

Lou Anna Simon, who has led Michigan State since 2005, told the Detroit newspaper that she was informed an unnamed doctor was the subject of a Title IX investigation in 2014. She said she told investigators to "play it straight up," did not seek additional information and did not see the final report.

Corbett, who teaches at Duquesne University's law school, was stunned to hear that.

"Why wouldn't she ask for more information? In light of all the national coverage at Penn State, why didn't that set off alarms?" he said.

Natural biases often come into play in such cases, said Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which works with groups across the country to prevent sexual violence.

"When there is a rumor going around or you've had complaints that a person in a position of trust is perpetrating these crimes you have to take action," Houser said. "When it is a doctor, a coach, a reverend teacher or a priest, you have people in authority who have access to children. They are counting on us to stick with our biases that good people do not commit these crimes."

Although three top executives at USA gymnastics have resigned in the wake of the Nassar hearings, Simon remains at the helm of Michigan State.

In recent days, however, a growing number of Michigan lawmakers called for Simon's resignation as they worked to strengthen Michigan's sexual abuse reporting laws.

Although the Michigan State board of trustees issued a statement in support of Simon and there has been no evidence she knew of Nassar's crimes, one trustee issued a personal statement calling for her resignation last weekend.

Mitch Lyons, a father of six and a Michigan State alum who played seven seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990s, has served on the Michigan State board since 2011. Lyons, who did not return calls for comment, called on Simon to resign. He is the only trustee to call for her resignation.

"I don't believe President Simon can survive the public outcry that has been generated by this tragedy and even less so after hearing the testimony of these brave survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse, I believe our best recourse is for President Simon to resign immediately in order to let the healing process begin, first and foremost for the survivors and secondarily for our university," the Detroit Free Press quoted Lyons.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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