ESPN: Michigan State has a bigger problem than Nassar; special prosecutor appointed

And that’s really saying something. Michigan State University has come under considerable fire from former gymnasts for allowing Larry Nassar to continue his employment despite multiple allegations of molestation and sexual assault dating back twenty years. ESPN reports that the pattern of cover-up goes far beyond the gymnastics program as women have accused MSU of covering up sexual assault allegations against players in high-profile sports, too:

MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY administrators have long claimed, to the federal government and public, that they have handled sexual assault, violence and gender discrimination complaints properly.

But an Outside the Lines investigation has found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department, whose top leader, Mark Hollis, announced his retirement on Friday. The actions go well beyond the highly publicized case of former MSU athletic physician Larry Nassar.

Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also has 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.

ESPN has been chasing down stories about MSU for several years — and has had to go to court multiple times to get the records for their investigation, which is remarkable for a public school. Allegations about cover-ups stretch back over that period of time, with ESPN’s Paula Lavigne and Nicole Noren referencing rape cases as far back as 2010, a case in which no charges were filed. In some cases, the woman did not want to file charges, and in another tragic case of a 2014 suicide, parents of an alleged victim of a 2007 gang rape were told that they could not press charges as her writings left after her death could not be verified.

Without a victim pressing charges, the local police had a seriously limited range of options. But the issue in these cases, ESPN notes, is that MSU didn’t follow their own internal judicial proceedings in reporting the incidents, and it’s unclear whether the coaches were informed of these allegations. Even if they had been, former MSU sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede tells ESPN that it wouldn’t have made any difference. The school had a different standard when it came to their athletic programs:

“Whatever protocol or policy was in place, whatever frontline staff might normally be involved in response or investigation, it all got kind of swept away and it was handled more by administration [and] athletic department officials,” says Allswede, who worked at MSU for seven years. “It was all happening behind closed doors. … None of it was transparent or included people who would normally be involved in certain decisions.” …

Allswede told Outside the Lines that about seven years ago, an attorney from the university’s general counsel’s department came to her office to try to reassure her that coaches were taking allegations of sexual violence seriously. Allswede says the attorney told her how Dantonio, the football coach, had dealt with a sexual assault accusation against one of his players: He had the player talk to his mother about what he had done.

“That did not reassure me at all,” Allswede says. “There’s no guarantee that that had any effect, any help, whatever.”

Be sure to read the whole article, which is too lengthy and detailed to sum up in fair-use excerpts. Suffice it to say that the issues at MSU are sufficiently disturbing for Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate MSU, with a specific mandate to find any evidence of cover-ups. Schuette also took a shot at the MSU board of trustees when he announced the decision:

The board of trustees, which originally held a vote of confidence to keep President Lou Anna K. Simon before she resigned last week amid widespread pressure, asked Schuette to appoint an independent special prosecutor because of the potentially political undertones of the investigation. Schuette is running for Michigan governor.

Schuette jabbed at the board during the news conference.

“Now the MSU board of trustees asked the department of Attorney General to conduct an investigation. I am and I have been. Let me also add this: I don’t need advice from the board of trustees at MSU about how to conduct an investigation,” Schuette said.

“Frankly they should be the last ones to be providing advice given their conduct throughout this entire episode,” he said. “Their conduct throughout this entire episode speaks for itself.”

This morning, MSU’s most famous alumnus declared on Twitter that MSU needs a housecleaning pronto:

Fired, definitely. Prosecuted? Perhaps. And perhaps other schools should take this opportunity to clean house as well.