Abuse Authority Leadership – Us

Two stories this week scream to those in authority and to those without authority- and I would guess that we are all both. In different contexts, we are with and without authority.  The stories confront us with the worst of human nature and of the need for vigilance. We only have time for one story.  And it deserves our time.

In Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Lawrence Nassar has pled guilty to sexual abuse of girls and young women. Since at least 1992 – over 25 years – he has molested hundreds of girls. Two victims later committed suicide. The father of another victim – abused from the age of six to fifteen – killed himself.  Nassar’s victims ranged from “family friends” to Olympic medalists who are household names; he was the lead gymnastics doctor for the U.S. and International Olympic Committees.

A vexing fact every parent should (already) know but which these 100-plus cases prove overwhelmingly is that VICTIMS ARE SO OVERWHELMED THEY SELDOM REPORT such abuse. I personally know two sisters victimized by Nassar. Their family is close; their mother a remarkable pediatrician; their conversations extremely open. But they did not tell their parents until this all broke.

Lead with your best self: Stay awake. Be alert. See something. Say something.

Unfortunately, the story gets worse:

  1. As early as 1997, 1999 and 2000, at least three women athletes overcame the pain, confusion and stigma to report Nassar’s abuses to Michigan State University coaches and/or head trainers.
  2. Over time, fourteen MSU officials received reports of Nassar’s abusive behavior, including the MSU police.
  3. In 2004 local police were notified but do not bring charges.
  4. In 2014 Nassar’s boss restricts his skin-to-skin contact with patients and requires that he not be alone with them; this gets ignored to the degree that at least 16 more girls allege abuse after this.
  5. A Title IX complaint gets filed and reported all the way up to the President of MSU in 2014. Enough yet?
  6. A 2016 Title IX complaint, police allegation and Indianapolis Star article finally result in Nassar’s firing.
  7. This past week, over 80 victims testified at his sentencing.
  8. The number is expected to exceed 125 women and girls as deliberations continue.

What’s the point?  My point:

Evil and sickness exist. And authority structures protect them.

We defer . . . to men, authorities, MD’s, Professors, titles of all kinds. The deference is perhaps 2% conscious. Instead, it’s deep. Part of our reptilian brains, part of our survival strategy not to challenge those in power, and then drilled into us as obedience, respect, self-restraint.

Authorities need to INVITE dissent.  Welcome openness.  Tolerate the interrogation – all the way to the top.

And, finally God bless the courage of the girls and women who found a voice and supported each other to find a voice.  In turn they have protected how many untold victims.

In there courage is the solace and hope that we too might

Lead with our best selves.



  • Well said Dan! The most important point: “Authorities need to INVITE dissent.” I would add, based on personal experience with authorities in the 70s, when reported abuse was met with “do you really want to put your mother through this….it’s in the past, it’s over” and on and on. We must not only INVITE dissent , we must get COMFORTABLE discussing the UNCOMFORTABLE! To facilitate true cultural change, everyone….. male, female, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, authorities, adults, children and everyone in between must continue to talk openly about things that can be very uncomfortable! This is the only way that victims elsewhere will have the courage to say “me too”. Further, if those in positions of authority cannot stand up and say, loud and clear, “oh my God…. we’re we complicit, did we contribute to this culture of shame and secrecy” then they should step aside and make room for a new brand of leader. Let this shocking tale serve a greater good, and let the survivors of Nassar’s evil know that they are helping the next potential victim stop evil in its tracks!

  • The authorities who knew about this and permitted it to go on for years not only should be banned from future sports competition and administrative positions in their institutions, they should be facing jail time. That’s called accountability.

  • Abuses of authority occur routinely and those abusing power are often insulated. When a witness or victim garners the courage or outrage to report it, they are often attacked, discredited and or marginalized. It doesn’t matter if they witnessed misappropriation of funds; abuse of power; or sexual harassment to sexual assault. The fact remains the person reporting the incident Will most likely be victimized twice and characterized as the problem. For it is common place for the inner circles of authority to go to great lengths to protect the institution from liability and loss of reputation by covering it up, denying it, attacking the victims veracity, etc to the point it protects the abuser. It is the reality of anyone who speaks up, be it victim or witness. Plus access to those who believe, listen and heed what is told are rare. Even when believed, it’s not uncommon to be told one would be better off remaining silent than reporting the incident as the backlash for reporting is can do more harm. It’s why so much evil occurs and thrives in secret until a tipping point where the allegations have harmed so many it can’t be downplayed or denied.

  • The stories of what happened to these women and girls are so despicable and nauseating that I cried as I read the testimony. I could not continue reading and yet these young people continued to face not only the abuse but the denial by people who should have been caring for them.
    These are horrific stories and as leaders and as human beings we also need to pay attention to the lesser indignities we see around us and speak up. Speak up by asking questions in case you are not sure of what is happening.
    Thanks, Dan, for raising this important topic.

    • Cathy, thanks for reading these stories with an open heart (and nauseated gut). And thanks for always reminding us: We can ASK, as you say, “in case you are not sure of what is happening.”

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