I gather from the emails and comments I’ve already received that many of you have read the disheartening pieces at ESPN and The Athletic related to the unfurling scandal at Michigan State over sexual assault that appears to have permeated every level of sports administration from the coaching staffs at the school all the way to the upper reaches of the NCAA. If you haven’t read them yet, by all means take the time to do so.
I suppose I should say at this point that it was almost a relief to find myself getting so angry as I read each. It’s good to know that my jaded cynicism still has its limits.
That being said, there’s a huge difference here between being angry and being surprised. And I am most assuredly not taken aback by the notion that powerful coaches of successful programs at best turned a blind eye and at worst… well,
Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school has also deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.
Even MSU’s most-recognizable figures, football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo, have had incidents involving their programs, Outside the Lines has found.
Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines. Even more, Dantonio was said to be involved in handling the discipline in at least one of the cases several years ago. As recently as June, Dantonio faced a crowd of reporters who were asking questions about four of his football players who had been accused of sexual assault. Six questions in, a reporter asked Dantonio how he had handled such allegations previously.
“This is new ground for us,” Dantonio answered. “We’ve been here 11 years — it has not happened previously.”
Please don’t get me wrong here. There are monsters among us who deserve everything the criminal justice system can throw at them. Larry Nassar is a monster. Jerry Sandusky is a monster.
But monsters don’t operate, don’t successfully seek out and find their prey over a number of years without institutional support, whether that comes from coaches protecting their programs, their reputations and their seven-figure annual salaries, or from administrators with similar motivations.
On Thursday, Outside the Lines reported that MSU officials in 2014 did not notify federal officials that the university had dual Title IX and campus police investigations of Nassar under way even though federal investigators were on campus that year scrutinizing how MSU dealt with sexual assault allegations. The Outside the Lines report also found that MSU administrators still have not provided to federal officials all documents related to the Nassar allegations.
Don’t overlook this part, either.
The previously unreported cases that Outside the Lines discovered include three reports of physical violence and three reported sexual assaults by football players. Each was investigated by campus police.
As part of a 2014 reporting effort spanning 10 universities, ESPN requested copies of all police reports involving football and basketball players from campus and local police departments over six seasons. In Michigan State’s case, the university supplied the reports but marked out the players’ names — something East Lansing police did not do. ESPN ultimately sued MSU for the release of material, and Michigan courts ruled that the school had violated the state’s open records laws, awarded ESPN the unredacted records, and told MSU to pay ESPN’s attorneys’ fees. When ESPN submitted a subsequent records request last year, MSU took the unusual step of proactively suing ESPN to defend its withholding of the documents. A judge, in dismissing the lawsuit, wrote that a public body filing suit against a requestor could create a “chilling effect” and dissuade people from requesting records in the first place.
The tl;dr version of that:
That a school president could be a part of something like that and turn around and confidently assert that “there is no cover-up” on her way out the door while collecting a large buyout should tell you all you need to know about the institutional attitude of Michigan State.
Of course, as the second linked piece indicates, the buck didn’t stop at the desk of MSU’s president. No, this one managed to climb higher. Much higher.
NCAA president Mark Emmert was specifically alerted in November 2010 — six months after he was hired as the organization’s president — to 37 reports involving Michigan State athletes sexually assaulting women.
Kathy Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, provided The Athletic with a copy of the letter she sent to Emmert urging him to better protect women with new, stronger gender violence policy measures.
In the letter, which was sent after Redmond and Emmert met in person in Indianapolis to discuss the topic, she specifically highlighted concerns about Michigan State. Emmert was unavailable for comment to The Athletic on Friday afternoon.
That sound you hear is that of wagons circling.
If you look up the word naive in the dictionary, it’s hard to improve upon this as a definitional example.
“Mark Emmert was brand new, and he’d initially said, ‘One sexual assault is one too many,’ ” Redmond told The Athletic on Friday. “As soon as I heard that, I thought I might have an ally.”
How’d that work out?
“What I really got from the experience with Mark Emmert was, that governing body governs him,” Redmond said. “He met with me, which was great and I appreciated that. But the governing board has an awful lot of power. … It’s a strange setup. You do kind of get the fox guarding the hen house mentality. You do feel like the NCAA doesn’t like to do investigations because they like their relationships (with university officials and conferences). I think Mark Emmert came in with the right tone but quickly realized, ‘There’s not a lot I can do here.’ ”
I think we just have seen the epitaph for Emmert’s NCAA career.
The thing unanswered here — you may have already thought of it yourself — is that less than two years later, Emmert himself is ripping up the NCAA procedures manual in an effort to bring Penn State to heel. But crickets on Michigan State. Until now.
I’ve already asked what Emmert thinks he can accomplish, given that events on the ground have moved quickly in the wake of Nassar’s conviction, but that question takes on a different perspective when Redmond asks it.
“What are they going to look at, exactly?” Redmond said. “We know they haven’t complied with federal law. They haven’t been helpful with investigations, we know that. … Mark Emmert, when he met with me, said the NCAA can’t be ‘state actors.’ So, what is the policy that he’s going for? Or is he looking to create a different one?”
Still, Redmond said she fully supports the NCAA getting involved at Michigan State now and, in particular, probing the welfare and safety of female athletes treated by Nassar. She hopes the NCAA can help and listen to others, even if it hasn’t listened to her policy ideas or her warnings in the past.
“They shouldn’t ignore the whistleblowers, or dismiss them,” Redmond said. “And they’ve done that.”
Why would anyone expect better, knowing what we know now? The only way things change is if outside force is applied.
It is time to recognize that collegiate sports at the highest level are a fundamentally corrupt exercise. Money, power and authority combine to make a toxic brew. The NCAA exists as an institution to enforce the flow of cash to those with power and authority and away from those without. It is there, in other words, to have the collective backs of conference commissioners, school presidents and athletic directors on the business side of things. That’s it. There’s nothing else there, despite protestations to the contrary by the Emmerts and Remys of the world. To pretend that these institutions are imbued with some nobility of purpose that drives their actions in the athletics sector is to be even more naive than Kathy Redmond was.
One more point of naivete: if you still believe that events at Penn State, Baylor and Michigan State are isolated incidents, you need to disabuse yourself of that notion and quickly. Don’t kid yourself. Power corrupts and there are a lot of powerful people in D-1 college athletics.
I’m not saying that those who enable monsters are more evil than the monsters they enable. More disgusting, though? Yeah, I could go there.