Oak Creek woman among those seek­ing Nas­sar set­tle­ment

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Lori Nickel and Cary Spi­vak

Ni­cole Casady was no more than 15 years old when she first met Larry Nas­sar, nearly two decades be­fore the Michi­gan State Univer­sity doc­tor's name be­came syn­ony­mous with sex­ual as­sault.

While com­pet­ing at a re­gional gym­nas­tics event hosted by the club Twis­tars in Michi­gan, Casady in­jured her ham­string.

Hurt and far from her Kenosha home, she trusted her coaches and felt con­fi­dent when she rec­og­nized the doc­tor on site: Nas­sar, the physi­cian for USA Gym­nas­tics.

"How ex­cit­ing was it I get to be seen by the na­tional team doc­tor," Casady said.

She had seen Nas­sar on tele­vi­sion the year be­fore, when he had

been in the hud­dle to help care for Kerri Strug af­ter she limped off the vault ex­er­cise at the 1996 Olympics, hav­ing se­cured a gold medal for the team.

"I didn't know who he was other than I got to see him on TV," said Casady, now an Oak Creek mother of four. At the time, coaches told her: “You’re so lucky the Olympic doc­tor is here. He can treat you.”

Nas­sar had her lay on her stom­ach on the panel mats, off to the side of the com­pe­ti­tion area.

And then it hap­pened.

"There was vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion on that first en­counter," said Casady. "And for the rest of that week­end while I was there, the same treat­ments hap­pened — but in my rec­ol­lec­tion they seemed to be­come more ag­gres­sive in na­ture."

Since 2016, nearly 500 women have come for­ward to say they en­dured sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences, all un­der the guise of treat­ment.

Like many of the other vic­tims, Casady did not re­al­ize she had been as­saulted — not un­til Nasser was ex­posed and the case re­ceived wide­spread me­dia at­ten­tion. At the time, she didn't know if it was or wasn't ap­pro­pri­ate.

"Know­ing what I know now, I would have iden­ti­fied that's ob­vi­ously not right," said Casady, a nurse prac­ti­tioner. "But be­ing a 15-, 14-year-old child?"

She did not tell her par­ents what hap­pened, other than the ham­string in­jury.

She came home to Kenosha and quit gym­nas­tics.

"I just couldn't get my­self to be in the gym," said Casady, who is telling her story for the first time. "I can put two and two to­gether now; back then I don't think I re­al­ized it. I just used my ham­string as the rea­son."

A 'sec­ond wave' of vic­tims

Nas­sar is in prison, and will re­main there for life.

"I've just signed your death war­rant," Michi­gan Judge Rose­marie Aquilina told the dis­graced doc­tor last year when she sen­tenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison.

A month af­ter that sen­tence was im­posed, a sec­ond Michi­gan judge sen­tenced him to 40 to 125 years on a dif­fer­ent set of charges. Be­fore those sen­tences kick in, he must com­plete a 60year fed­eral sen­tence for child pornog­ra­phy. Nas­sar, 55, is ex­pected to com­plete that sen­tence in 2069, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of Pris­ons.

MSU agreed to pay a $500 mil­lion set­tle­ment to re­solve claims brought by 332 Nas­sar vic­tims. That set­tle­ment set aside $75 mil­lion for fu­ture claims — a fig­ure those in the "sec­ond wave" of claimants ob­ject to be­cause they had no say in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Casady is one of about 175 women rep­re­sented by 36 law firms with claims pend­ing against the univer­sity. Their case is to be heard by a me­di­a­tor at the end of the month who will try to help the two sides reach an agree­ment.

A young start

When Casady be­gan her gym­nas­tics ca­reer, she was Ni­cole An­der­son.

Like many gymnasts — she started very young. She was 4 years old when her mom, with no back­ground in the sport her­self, en­rolled the en­er­getic Ni­cole in lo­cal clubs in Kenosha.

The sport is de­mand­ing; its cul­ture can be very tight knit, al­most closed off to the out­side world — two points Casady em­pha­sized in an hour-long in­ter­view Thurs­day evening with the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel. For years, she spent 18 to 20 hours of prac­tice a week in the gym.

"I didn't ex­pe­ri­ence teenage nor­malcy the way that most kids prob­a­bly do," said Casady.

About six months af­ter quit­ting the sport in the wake of the Nas­sar as­sault at the Michi­gan event, she came back. "Gym­nas­tics is kind of all I knew," she said. She missed it. With­out it, she said, "you be­come a pretty lost kid."

In­juries are com­mon in the sport. So is fight­ing through them. Af­ter break­ing her neck on a fall from the high bar, in 2000 she be­came the all-around Level 10 state cham­pion for Kenosha Trem­per, which also won the state ti­tle in 2001.

Af­ter at­tend­ing a Ju­nior Olympics gym­nas­tics event in East Lans­ing, she was de­ter­mined to go to Michi­gan State — she loved ev­ery­thing about the school.

It is also same school where Nas­sar, a revered os­teo­pathic physi­cian, worked.

As­saults be­gan dur­ing fresh­man year

At MSU, the ham­string in­jury came back, and Casady's fresh­man year was a strug­gle. She didn't earn her ath­letic schol­ar­ship that year. Her aca­demics suf­fered and she be­came in­el­i­gi­ble. Nev­er­the­less, she was con­tin­u­ally sent to Nas­sar.

"I was kind of nixed off the team," said Casady. "But that's when a lot of my treat­ments were ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing with Larry, that first se­mes­ter."

Casady es­ti­mates she en­dured 60 as­saults from Nas­sar while at Michi­gan State; at least half of them hap­pen­ing that first se­mes­ter. The field­house on cam­pus was un­der con­struc­tion, so the ses­sions were held in pop-up campers. To this day, see­ing such campers trig­gers anx­i­ety for Casady.

Many of Nas­sar's vic­tims have tes­ti­fied that they were as­saulted in the midst of prac­tices.

Casady said she and her team­mates never re­ally dis­cussed Nas­sar's ac­tions. Yet ev­ery­one knew what the sup­posed treat­ments in­volved.

"I can re­mem­ber we would stretch af­ter prac­tice, and one of my team­mates say­ing, 'OK, now it's my turn to get Larry's thumb up my a------,' " she said.

Like other vic­tims, Casady said the recog­ni­tion that what hap­pened con­sti­tuted as­sault — and that she was a vic­tim — did not be­come fully clear un­til the Nas­sar case hit the me­dia in 2016, in­clud­ing when he was sen­tenced to prison last year.

That's when she heard other sur­vivors tell their sto­ries.

She didn't even tell her hus­band, Joe, about the abuse un­til the mid­dle of last year.

Telling him, she said, was “one of the

hard­est things I’ve done thus far."

Le­gal claims seek more from MSU

The me­di­a­tion this month is crit­i­cal in terms of es­tab­lish­ing what com­pen­sa­tion the gymnasts in the sec­ond wave will re­ceive. But it is also pos­si­ble no agree­ment is reached, forc­ing law­suits to con­tinue.

In the ear­lier set­tle­ment, the first set of vic­tims re­ceived a to­tal of $425 mil­lion. For the 332 vic­tims, the av­er­age is about $1.2 mil­lion. Of the $75 mil­lion to cover fu­ture claims, about $6 mil­lion will be de­ducted to pay MSU le­gal ex­penses, said Noah Dom­nitz, one of Casady's lawyers.

Thus, the women in the sec­ond wave would be able to re­ceive an av­er­age of about $400,000 — one-third of the fig­ure for the first group.

The women in the sec­ond wave ar­gue they were not part of the ear­lier ne­go­ti­a­tions and are not bound by its terms.

"The $69 mil­lion num­ber is a com­pletely mean­ing­less num­ber to the wave two vic­tims," said Ric Dom­nitz, at­tor­ney for Casady. "It's noth­ing more than a start­ing point for ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The dis­pute, which in­volves dozens of law firms rep­re­sent­ing the vic­tims, will be me­di­ated by Steven Rhodes, a re­tired chief bank­ruptcy judge.

"We are fight­ing just to be at the same level as they are," Casady said, re­fer­ring to the first wave of vic­tims. "When you look at the abuse, the abuse is not any dif­fer­ent."

What­ever amount is ul­ti­mately paid to Casady and other vic­tims — whether through an agree­ment or court ver­dict — Casady said it won't erase some 20 years of pain.

“I don’t think that there’s go­ing to be a sin­gle price tag that you can place on the amount of abuse and trauma that any of us have had that would feel like it’s the right num­ber," she said. "It’s a re­ally dif­fi­cult thing to say how much do you think your life is val­ued in dol­lars."

She cred­its the words of poet Maya An­gelou with help­ing give her the courage to speak out.

Those words, she said, con­vinced her ''there’s noth­ing worse than an un­told story. And I knew if I didn’t get some of my story this would kind of just sit with me and it wouldn’t res­onate well for the rest of my life.”

"Know­ing what I know now, I would have iden­ti­fied that's ob­vi­ously not right. But be­ing a 15-, 14-year-old child?" Ni­cole Casady, vic­tim of con­victed child mo­lester Larry Nas­sar

AN­GELA PETER­SON / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Ni­cole Casady talks about her sex­ual abuse by Larry Nas­sar. Casady was a star gym­nast at Case High school in Racine.

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