Ex-Michigan State coach Kathie Klages set to defend her alleged inaction in the Larry Nassar scandal

Dan Wetzel
Former Michigan State University gymnastics head coach Kathie Klages was charged Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 with lying to police amid an investigation into the school’s handling of sexual abuse complaints against former sports doctor Larry Nassar. (AP)

On a crisp Thursday morning in Lansing, Michigan, on a day of reckoning more than two decades and hundreds of Larry Nassar victims in the making, Kathie Klages turned herself in.

The longtime Michigan State gymnastics coach pleaded not guilty in Ingham County District Court to two counts of lying to police about being told in 1997 that Nassar was sexually abusing young athletes. If convicted, she faces up to four years in prison. Klages, 63, was expected to be released on a $500 bond. A preliminary hearing is expected this fall.

On Thursday, Klages, via video conference from the Lansing police lockup, appeared nervous and uncertain, staring into the face of authority, hoping to be believed by Judge Louise Alderson.

In 1997, Klages was, sort of, in Alderson’s role. The influential coach was in power, capable of doling out praise, pointers and Big Ten scholarships. The hesitant person in front of her was a then 16-year-old named Larissa Boyce, a member of the MSU Youth Gymnastics Club.

It was Boyce who mustered up the courage and conviction to allegedly tell Klages that Nassar, a university doctor, had sexually abused her during a treatment session on campus.

Klages response was to call the entire youth club together and ask if anyone else had a similar experience. Boyce was horrified and humiliated. Still, one other gymnast said she had.

Klages did not report the allegation, though. Instead she met with Boyce and, according to Boyce, cautioned against accusing Nassar of such a severe crime, suggesting it could be reasonable medical treatment. Klages and Nassar were friends, something Boyce said she didn’t know at the time nor truly understood due to her age. “If I had known, I would have never gone to her,” Boyce said last January at Nassar’s sentencing hearing.

Later, when Boyce again met with Nassar, the doctor pulled up a stool and, according to Boyce’s testimony, said, ” … so, I talked to Kathie.” Boyce, unaware that Nassar had been told of her allegation, said she was further embarrassed and frightened.

Larissa Boyce (R) alleges she informed then Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse in 1997. (AP)

Boyce said she began to doubt herself. She was young, naïve and inexperienced. She fought through the trauma and moved on with her life. Nassar went on to abuse hundreds of girls over the next two decades in his role as doctor for both Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his patients in November of 2017. The 55-year-old is currently serving a 60-year term in federal prison on a separate child pornography guilty plea. Hundreds of years in state prison for the sexual assaults will follow if he manages to live long enough.

Boyce is now a 37-year-old mother of four who had her old suspicions confirmed when allegations against Nassar from other patients became public following a 2016 investigative report by the Indianapolis Star. Suddenly, others were saying the same thing she always had.

Klages resigned from MSU in 2017, after 27 years on the job, shortly after Boyce’s story went public and the school had suspended her. Of all the figures in the Nassar case, Klages’ actions, or lack of actions, are among the most infuriating.

If Boyce’s story is true – and she has told it over and over in and out of court – Klages had the chance to stop a monster early. The vast majority of Nassar’s victims came after 1997, when he was a young doctor in his early 30s. His assaults increased in frequency through the years as he became emboldened and confident, moving beyond local mid-Michigan teens and preteens to include Olympic champions and young adults.

Nassar, at a plea hearing in November 2017, called his actions, “a match that turned into a forest fire out of control.”

Klages may have been able to snuff out the match.

“This could have stopped in 1997,” Boyce said last January, at Nassar’s emotionally charged week-long sentencing hearing. “But instead of notifying authorities or even my parents, we were interrogated. We were led to believe we were misunderstanding a medical technique.

” … I told somebody,” Boyce continued. “I told an adult. I told Michigan State University. Instead of being protected, I was humiliated and told that I was the problem.”

Boyce, through her attorney, declined comment on Thursday since she is a potential witness if Klages goes to trial.

That will be the day that Boyce and others will be able to directly confront Kathie Klages for what did and did not occur back in 1997. Back then Larry Nassar was known publicly as a friendly and talented doctor, not a serial pedophile doomed to a life of condemnation and imprisonment.

That will be the day Larissa Boyce and others get to speak, indirectly, again to Kathy Klages. They’ll no longer have to care if Klages is listening or if she’ll take action. Klages is no longer in power. Klages is no longer the one who determines if their voices will be heard. Klages is no longer much of anything.

It’s now Kathie Klages, all these years later, who is begging to be believed and fighting for her life.

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