An “Insidious Monster”: Olympics Gymnast Guru Dr. Nassar on Trial

The sentencing hearing for the disgraced sports medicine “guru” Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar has now finally ended in a Michigan courtroom, with judge Rosemarie Aquilina imposing a 40 to 175 year prison sentence. She delivered it with this news for Nassar: “I just signed your death warrant.”  In all, over 150 women—U.S. Olympic gymnasts in particular, as well as dancers, rowers and runners—testified against Nassar during the seven-day hearing, but questions linger.  How could this sexual abuse have gone on for over two decades? To what degree if any did Nassar’s employers, including Michigan State University and the U.S. Olympics Committee, turn a “blind eye” to what was happening? Those are among the obvious questions. But another is wondering what the face of the man called an “insidious monster” by the mother of one of Nassar’s abuse victims might reveal. Did Nassar show signs of remorse as he listened to his victims testify?

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That last question is the easiest to answer. As might be expected given the tear that rolled down Nassar’s cheek in court the other day, sadness and fear constituted nearly half of the emoting the guy showed in court. But right alongside those two emotions was an equal amount of surprise and anger, plus truth be told an occasional slight, would-be Mona-Lisa type smile. Remorse? Yes, apparently. Fear? Why not, given that Nassar had already received a 60-year sentence for child pornography and surely knew that the newest sentencing would be even more severe.

Nassar’s other three emotional responses, however, were at first blush bewildering. Could he actually have been surprised to learn about the physical and psychological pain he inflicted? Did the anger mean that to some degree Nassar was resisting the validity of the graphic stories being shared in court (if even just out of psychological self-preservation)? And most of all, what about the slight smiles? One can only hope that deep-seated chagrin masquerading as muted happiness explains those expressions.

One other question remains. From his photographs publically available over the past two decades, did Nassar ever betray by his emoting patterns a hint of what has ultimately unearthed regarding his abusive conduct? There, the answer is equally clear: no. Various degrees of happiness, and not enough anger or fear to raise a red flag was the emotional portrait on display in the years preceding the trial. The patterns here aren’t new. The case of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University is an obvious antecedent. But farther back in time, so is what Hannah Arendt wrote about the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi’s Final Solution for the European Jews unfortunate enough to live—and die—within the borders of the Third Reich. Not a monster but somebody instead “terribly and terrifyingly normal” is how she described the man sentenced to hang in Israel, in coining her much-debated term: “the banality of evil.”

 

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