The Media Today

The media today: Is the press paying enough attention to the biggest scandal in sports?

January 22, 2018

The biggest story in sports is playing out in a Lansing, Michigan courthouse. Last week, nearly one hundred women, one after another, stepped to a microphone in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom, and spoke directly to the man who had sexually abused them. Dozens more will speak this week.

The occasion for this reckoning is the sentencing hearing of Dr. Larry Nassar, who for decades served as one of the most powerful figures in the US gymnastics world. Throughout the decades he treated world-class athletes and aspiring gymnasts, Nassar was also sexually assaulting them. His actions, and the lack of action by those who empowered him, represent one of the biggest scandals in sports history. But you might not realize that from the level of coverage the story has received.

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Unlike the firestorm surrounding the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, Nassar’s actions and the failure of those in positions of authority to deal with him, haven’t dominated SportsCenter or led nightly news broadcasts. The reasons for that lack of attention likely have something to do with the continuing drama in Washington, but there’s more to it than simply Trump and the shutdown. As Jessica Luther writes for BuzzFeed, “the lesson of this particular horror show is that when terrible wrongdoing against athletes is exposed, the response depends more on the sport than the scandal.

Nassar, unlike Sandusky, worked in a sport that only gains national relevance for one week every four years. The level of media coverage given to women’s athletics is generally woeful, and Luther adds that, “on top of that, it must be continually noted, all of the victims were girls and women. It’s at this intersection where the kind of public pressure that led to firings and changes at Penn State…has gone to die.”

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This isn’t to say that journalists have missed the story. The Indianapolis Star deserves the lion’s share of the credit for its wide-ranging investigative series into USA Gymnastics, which found that at least 368 gymnasts have alleged sexual abuse over the past 20 years. ESPN published a deep look at Nassar’s enablers in the sports and academic worlds. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both published on their Saturday front pages an iconic photograph of Olympic hero Aly Raisman confronting Nassar in the courtroom. Deadspin has highlighted coverage of Nassar’s hearing at the top of its homepage for most of the past week.

This week, more survivors will confront Nassar in that Michigan courtroom. It’s worth listening to their stories. Below, more on the coverage of one of sports’ biggest scandals.

  • Why does no one seem to care? HuffPost’s Alanna Vagianos spoke to several survivors of Nassar’s abuse. “I remember when the Penn State scandal was talked about at length for months and months and even years. This is nearly five times the size and no one knows about it,” one told her.
  • Local news: While the story may not be getting as much national attention as it warrants, local reporters have done excellent work covering the details. Meanwhile, the Michigan State student newspaper called on the school’s president to resign.
  • Powerful words: The New York Times published Raisman’s Friday statement in its entirety. Every word is worth reading.
  • Leading the charge: Deadspin deserves credit for a concerted effort to keep the focus on the story.


Trump, one year in 

  • CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope says it’s time to rethink how we cover Trump. In a critical look at the press’s performance over the past year, Pope writes: “It’s entirely within Donald Trump’s rights to do what he does, the dignity of America’s highest office be damned. But it is, or should be, within our rights to ignore him, or to bring him back to what we think matters.”
  • Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, assesses President Trump’s press freedom record, one year into the job. “Where the Trump effect has played out most dramatically is outside the borders of the United States,” Simon writes. “The president’s overheated rhetoric attacking the media has weakened global norms, eroded US influence, and emboldened repressive leaders who are jailing critical journalists at a record rate.”
  • Jeffrey Ballou, the president of the National Press Club for the past year, says that Trump has created a dangerous environment for journalists in the US and around the world. “The United States is supposed to be the living symbol of a free and independent press, and Trump has been doing his utmost to undermine that in every way, shape, and form,” Ballou tells CJR.


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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.