Who Is Coach Kathie Klages And Did She Know About Larry Nassar Abusing Gymnasts?

Did Kathie Klages excuse Larry Nassar’s abuse, detailed in HBO's "At the Heart of the Gold" for decades?

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt
Digital Original
The Larry Nassar Case, Explained

It’s a story that shocked not only the athletic and collegiate communities, but the general public: Larry Nassar used his position as a team doctor for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics to routinely sexually abuse hundreds of girls, all without facing any consequences for more than two decades.

As the truth first began to come to light nearly three years ago, the public, as well as law enforcement officials, not only turned their attention onto Nassar, but onto the people around him who may have enabled him to commit the abuse for years, unchecked. The scrutiny will increase as Erin Lee Carr's new documentary about the scandal, "At the Heart of the Gold" airs on HBO starting May 3. 

One such person is Kathie Klages, a former women’s gymnastics coach at Michigan State University. She stepped down in 2017 (one day after she was suspended), but she worked at the school at the same time that Nassar is believed to have sexually abused hundreds of girls by disguising the abuse as legitimate medical treatment. A number of survivors of Nassar’s abuse have claimed that Klages failed to act after they told her about what was happening, landing Klages in legal trouble for her alleged inaction.

Kathie Klages

The Michigan attorney general’s office charged Klages in August with two counts of lying to a peace officer, according to a statement last year. Witnesses told authorities that they reported Nassar’s abuse to Klages for decades, but that apparently differed from what Klages told investigators when questioned on the topic.

“While investigating how Larry Nassar was able to get away with sexually assaulting hundreds of individuals on and off Michigan State’s campus, Klages denied to Michigan State Police detectives having been told prior to 2016 of Nassar's sexual misconduct,” the attorney general's office said in their statement.

“Witnesses have said that they reported Nassar's sexual abuse to Klages dating back more than 20 years,” they continued.

Klages was charged with one felony count and one misdemeanor; accompanying the felony charge is a maximum sentence of four years or a maximum fine of $5,000, while the misdemeanor charge comes with a maximum of two years behind bars and/or a fine of up to $5,000, the office said.

Two women told investigators that they told Klages, now 64, about the abuse in 1997, when they were 14 and 16 years old, the Lansing State Journal reports.

One of the women, gymnast Larissa Boyce, said that when she told Klages about what Nassar had done to her, Klages said that she couldn’t picture Nassar “doing anything questionable,” according to CNN. She said that Klages dissuaded her from pursuing a formal complaint against Nassar, the outlet reports, citing a federal lawsuit Boyce filed against MSU.

“Instead of being protected, I was humiliated. I was in trouble and brainwashed into believing that I was the problem,” said Boyce, who at the time was a member of the university's youth gymnastics program.

Boyce said in her suit that, after she told Klages about the abuse, the coach called a meeting with other participants in the youth gymnastics program to ask them if they’d experienced anything similar to what Boyce claimed Nassar had done, the Lansing State Journal reports. One other girl said that she had, but Boyce says that nothing ever came of it — Klages never even told her parents about the situation.

Lindsey Lemke, a student and gymnast at Michigan State, said that she also told Klages about Nassar’s abuse in fall 2016, CNN reports. Klages allegedly responded by telling her that there was nothing wrong with Nassar’s methods; she then encouraged Lemke, and other gymnasts, to sign a “sympathy card” for Nassar, who, by then, was just beginning to come under fire.

Lemke said of Klages that it’s been a “relief” to see the truth come out, according to the outlet.

“When I first exposed her failure to protect her athletes from Nassar, I received enormous criticism and personal attacks from her supporters at MSU,” she said in a statement obtained by the outlet. “This is why victims of sexual abuse suffer in silence, because people in power bully them and enable predators.”

Klages’ attorney Shirlee Bobryk said in a statement in February that her client would have acted had she known.

“Dr. Nassar was trusted by Ms. Klages to competently and ethically treat her team members,” Bobryk said, according to the Lansing State Journal. “Had she ever received any information to cast doubt on the appropriateness of that trust in Dr. Nassar, she would have reacted immediately to protect her gymnasts.”

Klages’ lawyer has said that she doesn’t remember being told about the abuse, according to WILX, an NBC affiliate based in Michigan. At a hearing in March, a judge set a tentative trial date for July 8, but that is subject to change, dependent upon any future motions that may be filed, the outlet reports.

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