It was just eight days ago that I spoke at the world’s largest gathering of soccer coaches. As I stood at the podium to present not just once, but twice, I so proudly and confidently discussed a serious issue within the sports world right now—an issue that has affected me, personally; in fact, it consumed my life during a particularly tumultuous time in college—at Michigan State University—and it nearly took my life.
I had developed an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa to be specific— which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—as a student-athlete in East Lansing, Michigan. In 2003 I hit my rock bottom, and as I travel to speak to various organizations, I share with you the following excerpt verbatim:
Bottom line: There was no possible way I would’ve been able to battle and overcome my eating disorder without immediate identification, without others taking the proper steps to get me help, and without the support of Michigan State. It is too difficult to overcome an eating disorder on your own. It is a physically and psychologically debilitating disorder. It is essential for coaches and others to recognize there is an issue, address it, set plans in motion to get the player help, and then provide ongoing support.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by and provided with the essential resources that allowed me to recover from such a serious disorder. Through intensive therapy, medication, support from the athletic department and coaching staff, support from my family, and interventions from other physicians and specialists, I was able to battle, and eventually overcome anorexia nervosa. I went from rock bottom my sophomore year to playing my best soccer ever by my senior year. As a senior, I served as captain for the team and set the record for career assists, and the program made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in history. I started every game of my career there, except one. And that was when I was at my sickest, and those around me were deciding on whether they needed to medically disqualify me. I am so thankful my coaches were looking out for me every step of the way. It made a significant difference in my healing and eventual comeback.
From my story, some may see my years at Michigan State in only negative terms. But while I developed a major health problem while I was there, Michigan State was the place with the people and resources that saved my life.
During a time that Michigan State is taking over the headlines in the news, and undergoing investigations that have led to the largest scandal in university history, I can’t help but feel an obligation as a Spartan to publicize my continuing thoughts on this disgusting atrocity involving Dr. Larry Nassar—a Michigan State University sports medicine physician who has pleaded guilty to charges of criminal sexual conduct and child pornography.
I feel incredibly guilty that my experiences at the same university, in the same athletic department, and under the same administration was completely inconsistent from what is being described and detailed by the innocent victims of sexual assault as student-athletes. I feel remorseful to these girls and women that they, by assignment only, had Dr. Nassar overseeing their programs, rather than the physicians who were responsible for my program—women’s soccer.
To be an elite athlete at the collegiate level and the pressures involved to exceed all expectations is overwhelming enough. It requires an amplitude of trust—and, for that trust to be jeopardized is outright deadly. After listening to over 150 victims testify at Dr. Nassar’s sentencing, it was clear the room was filled with intense pain and grief. I couldn’t help but become tearful, saddened, and discouraged while listening to personal struggles these women have faced—physically and emotionally.
I am inspired by each and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy and come forward for their bravery and strength. They have not only sent a message that sexual assault will be not tolerated, but have shown all the girls out there to never back down—that they have a voice that must be heard.
There is no question that this scandal is extremely damaging, excruciating, and heartbreaking; and, that every person found guilty for not protecting the well-being of the student-athletes should be held responsible. But, at the same time, the shadow it is casting on the university and athletic department as a whole is misleading.
Dr. Larry Nassar’s despicable and immoral behavior, and the ongoing pattern of denial, inaction, and deceit within the department and beyond should result in retribution. The victims of sexual assault should attain justice. But, MSU is one of the top universities in the world, and is home to a diverse community of dedicated students and scholars, athletes and artists, scientists and leaders. It is unfair to project a negative image on the faultless, honorable, and attentive personnel in East Lansing–the ones I was so lucky to have encountered.