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MSU Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages Steps Down Amid Scandal

She says she "trusted" the doctor now accused of molesting gymnasts and would never do anything to put girls in harm's way.
Image: A sign for Michigan State University is pictured on campus in East Lansing, Mich.
A sign for Michigan State University is pictured on campus in East Lansing, Mich.Mark Cunningham / Getty Images

Michigan State University's longtime gymnastics coach announced her retirement on Tuesday, a day after she was suspended for her "passionate defense" of a doctor who has since been accused of molesting dozens of patients, hoarding child pornography and sexually abusing a child at his home.

Kathie Klages has also been accused in civil court filings of brushing off a gymnast's complaints about Dr. Larry Nassar in the late 1990s — nearly 20 years before his alleged crimes were publicly exposed.

Klages, who coached the Spartans women's gymnastics team for 27 years, denied the accusations, saying in a statement issued by her attorney that MSU gymnasts were her top priority and "she would never do anything to put any of them in harm’s way."

"Dr. Nassar was trusted by Ms. Klages to competently and ethically treat her team members. Had she ever received any information to cast doubt on the appropriateness of that trust in Dr. Nassar, she would have reacted immediately to protect her gymnasts," the statement said.

Two weeks ago, Klages was named in court papers filed by a former gymnast who claimed that Nassar repeatedly molested her from 1997 to 1999 during invasive treatments while she was training in an MSU youth sports program.

The plaintiff, who is using a Jane Doe pseudonym, alleged that she went to Klages with her concerns about Nassar's treatments and was told that she must be "misunderstanding" his procedures.

"Klages explained that she had known Nassar for years and could not imagine him doing anything questionable," the complaint says.

"Klages explained that she [Klages] could file something, but that it would have serious consequences for Plaintiff and for Nassar. This conversation left Plaintiff feeling intimidated, embarrassed, and scared, and caused Plaintiff to believe that nothing illegal or tortious was happening."

Related: Sex-Abuse Accusers Sue Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar

In a new round of court papers filed Tuesday, another former gymnast alleged that Klages asked her around the same time if Nassar was performing vaginal procedures on her. When the teenager said he was, Klages allegedly told her there was "no reason to bring up Nassar's conduct."

After the Indianapolis Star reported the first allegations against Nassar on Sept. 12, Klages held a meeting with the gymnastics team and focused on how to deal with media inquiries, not how to report abuse allegations to law enforcement, according to a letter from athletic director Mark Hollis.

"While I acknowledge you provided student-athletes with information about reporting to the Office of Institutional Equity, your passionate defense of Dr. Nassar created an emotionally charged environment for the team. That has not abated," Hollis wrote.

He suspended Klages with pay, and she announced her retirement the next day. In the statement, Klages' attorney said the coach is "extremely distressed by the accusations" that she ignored an athlete's concerns and is fully cooperating in all investigations.

"The underlying accusations involving Ms. Klages have been a serious distraction to her professional responsibilities and detrimental to her overall well-being. Her recent suspension as head coach is a consequence of that," the statement said.

"Out of respect to the University and the gymnastics program in particular, Ms. Klages believes it is in everyone’s best interests for her to retire from her current position at MSU."

Nassar has been accused of molesting more than 60 former patients, including at least one Olympic medalist. The Michigan Attorney General charged him with abusing a family friend starting when she was 6 years old, and the feds hit him with child pornography charges.

Nassar, who is being held without bail, denies the allegations. His lawyers have said any procedures he performed were medically appropriate.

Michigan State fired him in the fall, and USA Gymnastics, the sport's national governing body, ousted him as the team doctor in 2015 in response to unspecified "athlete concerns."