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Michigan State Athletics Seemingly Complicit in Sexual Assault Cover-Ups

This past week, ESPN’s E:60 and Outside the Lines put out a story that writer Paula Lavigne claimed was three years in the making. In the same week that former Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to an essential life in prison, both MSU’s President and Athletic Director resigned as well. Lavigne’s story showed why; for multiple years, the university had blatantly mishandled sexual assault cases regarding the athletic department.
Interviews with victims, former counselors, investigators, and others who knew of the culture surrounding the school revealed a shocking amount of disregard for both moral and legal issues relating to sexual assault on the East Lansing campus.

ESPN’s story, which can be found here, focused on the men’s basketball and football programs, as well as the roadblocks the athletic department complicity allowed to exist when it came to actually dealing with assault accusations. Additionally, the ESPN story shined some light onto the lack of urgency the school had when it came to dealing with legal investigations into the premier programs, and the athletic department as a whole.

Rather than retell Lavigne’s story, which is well worth the read, I think a recap of the accusations laid out in the story provides a reasonable look into the “brush under the rug” culture that seemed to be present at Michigan State.

  • Since 2007 (the first year of Head Coach Mark Dantonio’s tenure), 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual misconduct.
  • A 2007 accusation rape accusation levied on four MSU football players was not brought forward until 2014.
  • Multiple men’s basketball players were accused of sexual assault in 2009 and 2010. None of these players missed a game.
  • Victims reported instances of intimidation, red tape, and emphasis that they ought to handle all accusations through the athletic department.
  • One victim reported her that internal investigation by MSU, something required by law, was delayed.
  • Undergraduate student assistant coach Travis Walton was accused of sexually assaulting a student while on staff.
  • In 2010, the NCAA was issued a report stating that over the past two years, 37 Michigan State male athletes had been accused of sexual assault. This report allegedly reached the desk of NCAA President Mark Emmert. Not a single one was disciplined. The NCAA also did not act on this report.
  • Federal officials investigating how MSU dealt with sexual assault violations were not informed of a separate, dual Title IX and campus police investigation involving athletic department employed Larry Nassar.
  • ESPN claims that Mark Dantonio and head basketball coach Tom Izzo are either lying or utterly incompetent at their jobs when they state they had not heard of allegations that were filed under their tenure.
  • Michigan State hid details of reports from victims when handing them over to federal officials.
  • Michigan State hid details of a specific Title IX report from a victim who reported the assault.
  • Larry Nassar was employed by MSU until 2016. The first reports from a victim to MSU date back to 1997.
  • Last week, both university president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis resigned.

Michigan State argues against the validity and scope of many of these claims, but the picture is clear. It is highly unlikely this many charges would be laid out in a published article by ESPN without some merit, and the story made it clear that students and faculty thought there was a tension regarding the underlying sexual assault issues present in the MSU athletic department.

If the validity of the ESPN accounts’ are true, Michigan State athletics have a clear loss of institutional control, and a lack of any morality. If that is the case, the athletic department ought to face the penalties levied on Penn State when it was punished for the Sandusky scandal. And the NCAA ought to follow through on them.

If the claims against Mark Emmert are true, he needs to resign immediately.

College sports can be a beautiful thing, but when a thirst for wins clouds what the college sports experience should be about and when it gets in the way of legal and moral matters, those involved need to face the entire weight of the legal system and the public eye. For now, Michigan State looks like a place that is about to face a hell of a lot of problems from both.



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