Acclaimed soccer blogger in Edmonton to talk sexual abuse in sport

When Michigan State University investigated a gymnast’s complaint against Dr. Larry Nassar in 2014, it determined the complainant “didn’t know the difference” between sexual assault and medical treatment.
The conviction of Dr. Larry Nassar, shown in a court appearance in Lansing, Mich., in November, opened countless discussions about power structures in sport. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

When Michigan State University investigated a gymnast's complaint against Dr. Larry Nassar in 2014, it determined the complainant "didn't know the difference" between sexual assault and medical treatment.

The woman was a 24-year-old medical student.

Nassar's case opened countless discussions about power structures in sport.

Jennifer Doyle, an acclaimed feminist sport blogger and professor, is in Edmonton Thursday night to discuss how the culture of sports hero worship may have contributed to such an outrageous conclusion about sexual abuse.

"One of the things you see in the (Michigan State) report is that the people working alongside Larry Nassar were very invested in this idea that the victims themselves did not understand what he was doing," Doyle said on CBC's Radio Active on Wednesday.

"There was a level of disavowing information that was right in front of them."

At a public talk at the University of Alberta, Doyle will dissect the case of Nassar, who is now serving a prison sentence of up to 175 years.

Records show women and girls had been sounding the alarm about Nasser for years, but schools, fellow coaches, and sports organizations continuously shielded him from the accusations.

Doyle — who penned a popular soccer blog for years and is a professor at the University of California, Riverside — speaks at length about the different ways fans and journalists idolize athletes while walking a tight-rope in keeping them accountable.

"The thing about sports that makes it distinct is that so many of us share a passion for it," she said. 
Sports blogger Jennifer Doyle is speaking in Edmonton Thursday night. (California State University)

Doyle said journalists and their editors are always mindful that they need to maintain access to athletes to continue their coverage.

In some cases, journalists want to support teams or athletes which don't get the attention they deserve, especially female athletes, but that can have unintended consequences.

She pointed to stories about mismanagement in women's soccer which have not always been properly covered.

"It feels like when you cover that story that you're doing a disservice to women's sports, like you're not supporting the sport," she said.

"But of course every sports fan is a sports critic. Every sports fan wants to talk about corruption in the league. These are actual sports stories, so we have to understand these things are actually expressions of our commitment and love of the sport."

Doyle is speaking at 7 p.m. at the Humanities Centre at the University of Alberta.