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Former USA Gymnastics Coach Charged With 2 Dozen Criminal Charges, Dies By Suicide

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Stunning news today in the world of elite gymnastics. One of the sport's most prominent coaches, who had ties to the notorious sports doctor Larry Nassar, has killed himself. John Geddert took his own life just hours after he was charged with two dozen crimes, including human trafficking and sexual assault. Geddert led the U.S. women's gymnastics team to a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Joining us now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: What else do we know?

GOLDMAN: Well, we have confirmed that John Geddert killed himself hours after he was charged. He was supposed to turn himself in this afternoon. He'd been investigated for the last three years. His investigation grew out of the Larry Nassar trial. Nassar, of course, was convicted of sexually abusing many, many female athletes, including some of the most famous U.S. Olympic women gymnasts. And throughout his investigation, Geddert steadfastly maintained his innocence and that he wasn't aware of what Nassar was doing.

KELLY: What else do we know about these? There were two dozen charges that the state of Michigan announced today. What exactly was Geddert accused of having done?

GOLDMAN: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced, yes, the two dozen charges, and 20 of the 24 counts were for human trafficking and forced labor. And Attorney General Nessel explained the human trafficking charges in a press conference today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANA NESSEL: It is alleged that John Geddert used force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him. The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault.

GOLDMAN: Now, Mary Louise, Attorney General Nessel acknowledged that cases like this don't often involve human trafficking. She said we think of it predominantly as affecting people without the means to protect themselves from this type of crime. But she said it can obviously affect all types of people - in this case, young, elite, female athletes. And she said the alleged victims still carry the scars of those crimes to this day.

KELLY: Yeah. I said there are ties between Geddert and Larry Nassar. What were the ties?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, Geddert was a longtime owner and coach at a gym near Lansing, Mich. And it was there where hundreds of women say Larry Nassar abused them. Nassar was the team physician and in-house medical expert at Geddert's gym for about 20 years. One of the charges today was that Geddert lied to police about Nassar's role as the physician at his gym. Geddert allegedly told police he had never heard any complaints about Nassar's treatment of athletes, although at least one prominent athlete contradicts that. She said she was with a group of fellow gymnasts and Geddert, and she mentioned that Nassar had abused her. She says her teammates gasped, and Geddert didn't react.

USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert during the Nassar scandal, and Geddert retired in 2018. And finally today, following his death by suicide, Rachel Denhollander, the first to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, tweeted this. (Reading) So much pain and grief for everyone. To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you. Thank you for telling the truth.

KELLY: NPR's Tom Goldman reporting there. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEBS' "MARCEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.