University of Southern Indiana

Event Highlights

Distinguished Scholar Series

An Evening with Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tim Evans;
Reporters who helped expose Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics
written by Aubrey Swart '22

In 2016, the IndyStar, an Indianapolis-based news publication, exposed USA Gymnastics’ negligent sexual abuse policies which failed to protect young athletes from sexual predators such as Larry Nassar, (now former) USA Gymnastics sports doctor. In 2020, Netflix released Athlete A, a documentary which follows how the IndyStar reporters uncovered the story. Then, most recently, on February 23, 2022, USI’s College of Liberal Arts and Communications Department co-hosted “An Evening with Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tim Evans,” an in-depth interview/Q&A with two of the IndyStar reporters who broke the story. Dr. Leigh Anne Howard, Chair of the Communications Department, introduced the event, and Dr. Jane Weatherred, Assistant Professor of Public Relations and Advertising, served as the moderator.

To begin the event, Dr. Weatherred provided an overview of the story. She explained how the “investigation began with looking into complaints made by USA Gymnastics about USA gymnastics coaches” and “eventually revealed that USA Gymnastics had a policy of not reporting all sexual abuse allegations against its coaches to any law enforcement or authorities.” After the IndyStar published the initial story in 2016, the organization had numerous survivors come forward and name Larry Nassar as their abuser. Larry Nassar was “eventually arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to more than 120 years in prison.” Finally, in December of 2021, after five years in court, the over 500 Nassar abuse survivors reached a 380 million dollar settlement with USA Gymnastics and the USA Olympic and Para-Olympic Committee.

Following her introductory remarks, Dr. Weatherred then allowed the interviewees to introduce themselves. Although Marisa Kwiatkowski was an investigative reporter for the IndyStar during the time of the story, she is now an investigative reporter for USA Today. Marisa has also won over 50 journalism awards throughout her career. Her former colleague, Tim Evans is still an investigative reporter for the IndyStar and is a recent inductee into the Journalism Hall of Fame.

The discussion officially started with Dr. Weatherred asking Marisa to explain, in her own words, how the entire USA Gymnastics investigation began. Marisa explained how the initial focus for her investigation was on failure to report child sexual abuse in schools. Then, she received a tip that suggested she look into USA Gymnastics, which led her to discover that USA Gymnastics was not compliance with state laws concerning the mandatory reporting of child abuse. USA Gymnastics’ child abuse policy was, as Marisa stated, to “only report if the allegations has been signed in writing by the victim, the victim’s parent, or an eyewitness to the abuse.” Marisa’s discovery of the USA Gymnastics’ policy led the IndyStar investigative team to wonder: what was the impact of this policy on the safety of children in the sport? The subsequent investigation was led by this question, as the team sought to dig deeper into how USA Gymnastics handled issues of sexual abuse.

The conversation then shifted from the broader focus of USA Gymnastics to discuss more about how the IndyStar investigative team uncovered the truth about Larry Nassar. Now, the initial story published by the IndyStar discussed USA Gymnastics’ negligence to child abuse inflicted by coaches within the organization. However, after the story was published, the IndyStar received an overwhelming number of responses from the public, with names of people involved in or associated with USA Gymnastics who should be investigated, including Larry Nassar. Tim noted how, during the time of the investigation, Larry Nassar “was running for school board in his local community, and he had started a foundation to help autistic children. He was this god-like creature in gymnastics.” So, since Nassar was such an established figure within the community, it was especially important the team was careful to explore all avenues of the allegations to ensure the accuracy of the story. Tim added how, in his exploration of the sexual assault allegations against Nassar, he sought advice from medical professionals to determine whether Nassar’s methods were legitimate. He elaborated that there was no reason for Nassar to be using said technique on young girls; and even if there were such a procedure that required penetration, Nassar still failed to follow the proper medical procedures of wearing gloves, receiving consent from the patient, and having another adult witness present. Marisa Kwiatkkowski

Moreover, Dr. Weatherred also pointed out how Tim Evans was the first and only reporter to interview Larry Nassar. Tim recalled how, during his interview, he had informed Nassar and his attorney about a lawsuit that had been filed against Nassar. Nassar’s attorney then promptly concluded the interview with the statement that Larry Nassar had never penetrated any young girl. Tim highlighted how the attorney’s claim — although intended to protect his client — essentially solidified the case against Nassar, as many women to stepped forward to disprove said claim. Marisa also drew attention to how important the attorney’s statement was for the survivors. It is necessary to point out, that Tim stresses the importance of using the term “survivor” versus “victim.” Someone who is a survivor of sexual assault has survived a traumatizing experience but is not limited by being defined according to the wrongdoings of another. Marisa mentions, “for many survivors, it was the first time they realized they were survivors.” Some of the women, had still believed that what they had experienced, while uncomfortable, had been a legitimate medical procedure. So, when Nassar and his attorney tried to claim that Nassar had never used penetration, the women knew it was a lie and were able to realize that what they had experienced was sexual assault.

After discussing the details of the investigation, Dr. Weatherred asked: what would say has been the most satisfying result of your reporting? Tim, overcome with emotion at the thought of the impact his work has had, responded, “We gave voice to a bunch of people — some who had tried to speak out then didn’t or people didn’t believe them — and knowing that some stranger in Indianapolis was able to help them and stop this monster, there can’t be a thing more rewarding than that.” Marisa then answered that, alongside the good feeling of having had amplified survivors’ voices that Tim mentions, another reward that resulted from their work was the new federal law which “requires all national governing bodies to immediately report child sexual abuse allegations to authorities.” Thus, the story on the USA Gymnastics’ scandal not only worked to rectify issues within the USA Gymnastics organization, but created a federal mandate which works to protect children all over America. 

The reference to the new federal law then prompted Dr. Weatherred to ask why the reporters believe that issues of child sexual assault continue to happen, and what needs to change in order stop it from happening? Marisa was quick to state that “sexual abuse is a pervasive community issue, it’s not exclusive to gymnastics, or the Catholic Church, or Boy Scouts, or any other institution.” She conceded that although she would love for sexual assault to no longer be an issue, it is unlikely that will happen; she then refocused the question to ask: what do institutions do when they find out about instances of sexual assault? Although sexual assault itself is a problem, there is a more pertinent underlying problem with institutions ignoring sexual assault reporting guidelines and jeopardizing the safety of children in order to maintain their public image. The discussion needs to shift from “a place is bad because they have sexual assault allegations” to “what did that institution do once those allegations came to light?”

Ultimately, “An Evening with Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tim Evans” concluded with a more comprehensive look at the field of investigative journalism as a whole and why it is especially important in today’s world. Tim affirmed, “[Investigative journalism] is more important than ever. There are millions of sources of information and noise out there. You can find ‘news’ anywhere… But the bottom line is that we are fighting for people who are being underserved or who don’t have a voice or who are being silenced.” If there is anything to take away from the conversation with Marisa and Tim, it is we, as a society, need to shift the conversation around sexual assault to help the survivors and that investigative journalism is one of the best ways to do that. Both reporters emphasized how, as journalists, they have a duty to the public to report information that is accurate and fair. Investigative journalism is not simply a form of entertainment, much like other forms of media; it is not grabby headlines and catchy stories. Investigative journalism is a way to create a platform for advocacy for others by shedding light on important issues and hold people and organizations accountable for their actions.

Missed the event or want to learn more? Click here to watch the recording.



 Additional Event Highlights

Women's Suffrage Symposium
November 2020

Annual Juried Student Art Show
April 2020
Petit Jean Performance Festival
October 2019
Day of the Dead Celebration
October 2019
USI Choir Trip
May 2019 - Carnegie Hall, NYC
Spanish Theater Conference
October 2018
Nonprofit Excellence Symposium
October 2018
Faculty Showcase
October 2018

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