As I listened to the Larry Nassar sentencing and read the resignation letter of Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon, that quote from the 2012 film “The Dark Knight Rises” came to mind.
With a dark cloud hanging over Michigan State University in the past week, it’s clear that now, more than ever, we need the truth to come to light after many within the university’s walls attempted to outsmart it.
For almost 20 years, grown adults within Michigan State’s athletic department stood idly by as a despicable, lowlife with a doctor's license abused more than 150 young girls.
It should have stopped in 1997, when 16-year-old Larissa Boyce, a high school gymnast from Williamston High School, told Michigan State women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages that Nassar had violated her during a routine exam while she was attending an MSU youth gymnastics program.
Instead, Klages allegedly intimidated Boyce and others into not filing a report.
Recent victim testimonies have shown that similar complaints were filed to the school’s track and field coach, multiple athletic trainers, clinical psychologists, medical manipulation specialists, the Institutional Equity Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, and even local township police officers.
Simon’s claims that reports never reached her desk appear to be false, while Hollis’ see-no-evil approach to such matters only fostered a safe space for a monster. It turns out, when you ignore a problem, it doesn’t get better.
Luckily, many of Nassar’s victims, now grown adults themselves, have come forward to break the silence and force those responsible within the university to share a similar fate as the degenerate they allowed to commit heinous sex crimes against them.
As most of you know, Nassar was sentenced Jan. 24 to 40-175 years in prison for multiple sexual assault charges, a month after being sentenced to 60 years for three separate child pornography charges.
Nassar won’t be eligible for parole for 99 years or the year 2117.
Now that the person responsible for these nightmarish actions is behind bars for life, it’s time to hold those who knew about Nassar accountable for their inaction.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has already opened an investigation into Michigan State University in an effort to find the facts, as ugly as they might end up being.
In the following months, the truth will finally have its day.
NO TRUST IN THE TRUSTEES
One thing is clear about the cultural problems that have been created at Michigan State: It can be found at the very top of food chain.
In her resignation letter, Simon states, “The last year and a half has been very difficult for the victims of Larry Nassar, for the university community, and for me, personally. As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable."
Not only did Simon avoid answering any questions by not holding a press conference to announce her resignation, she decided to release a public statement in which she compares herself to the victims of this awful situation. And, in the statement, she doesn’t take any blame for the institution’s botching of nearly 20 years of reports on Nassar.
Arrogant to the very end.
The vice chairman of the MSU Board of Trustees, Joel Ferguson, showcased his own out-of-touch, tone-deaf nature on a recent appearance on a radio show (WVFN) in Lansing when talking about the priorities of the Michigan State president and her cohorts.
"When you go to the basketball game, you walk into the new Breslin Center, and the person who hustled and got all those major donors to give money was Lou Anna Simon," Ferguson said. "There’s just so many things that make up being president at a university that keeps everything moving and everything right with the deans, everything at a school where we have a waiting list of students who want to come.
"There’s so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing."
The flippant nature of that last sentence shows you everything you need to know about how this current Board of Trustees viewed these allegations until they were thrown upon their doorsteps.
Ferguson is more worried about the sports teams and their new stadium renovations and protecting the brand. Instead, he soiled the very Spartan logo he cheers for and has helped bring shame to the university.
If the goal is to eradicate the problems at Michigan State, the Board of Trustees should be the next group under fire for their general ineffectiveness in this epidemic.
But, instead of blaming the people directly responsible for harboring Nassar and his crimes, media entities like ESPN are trying to connect dots and prove the university’s two highest-profile employees, men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and head football coach Mark Dantonio, are on the same playing field as a pedophile.
The two stories share a similar thesis about Michigan State University, but shouldn’t be haphazardly thrown together.
The Nassar case involves overwhelming evidence, a conviction and almost 200 victim testimonies that back up that evidence.
The other is a report that paints a disturbing picture of life on the Michigan State campus that includes, but is not limited to, several MSU football and men’s basketball players.
Lumping the atrocities of Larry Nassar with assault allegations of former players under Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio is irresponsible journalism. So is running a report with only one primary source, which was aired on Outside the Lines last Friday, less than 24 hours after the Nassar sentencing.
As a journalist, I found the timing of the report completely disingenuous. In a time when we should be celebrating the brave women who have helped spearhead change, ESPN quickly changed the attention of the public.
The special was recorded in August 2017, but yet it didn’t air until the day after the Larry Nassar sentencing.
Why did ESPN wait five months to run this story? If they truly cared about the victims involved, they should have gone public with their findings sooner.
In the piece, reporter Paula Lavigne interviewed former Michigan State sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede about the cultural problems around the Michigan State campus and its figureheads. The two go on to outline several sexual and domestic assault allegations that involved Michigan State football and basketball players since 2007. The details of the police reports are jarring, and maybe that’s a good thing.
As a society, we’ve become numb to a lot of things. We read “sexual assault” and “domestic violence,” but don’t actually consider the grizzly details those crimes can sometimes entail. For that, I’m thankful that ESPN reported the piece.
Sometimes real change involves a society confronting some uncomfortable truths.
While I think it’s important to hear what Allswede and the victims involved have to say, I think it’s also important that we get hard evidence that proves Dantonio and Izzo withheld information or prevented authorities from doing their jobs during cases involving their players.
Allswede uses sweeping generalizations that paint a picture that the two coaches “helped create a rape culture across the campus” before stating, “It's unknown whether campus police or any university administrator ever notified Dantonio or Izzo about the incidents, or, if they did, whether the coach ever disciplined any of the players.”
In a day and age when the court of public opinion is as powerful as ever, that’s quite a character-smearing accusation to lob into the hurricane that is already swirling around the campus.
If it turns out Izzo and Dantonio were involved in covering up cases, intimidating witnesses or mishandling situations in any way, then they should resign, as well. But until that is proven with evidence, anything else is reckless.
During a time period when Michigan State University’s institutional leaders are being investigated or resigning under public pressure, I found it refreshing that the most insightful quote on the issue came from a 19-year-old point guard on the men’s basketball team.
"You don't put up walls. This is real life. This is a terrible situation,” said MSU sophomore student-athlete Cassius Winston to reporters after the Maryland game. “This is something we're going to use to tell our daughters one day, or our sons, especially. You can't ignore it. You've got to listen to it. We have to listen. We have to discuss. That's when you get answers."
Open dialogue, transparency, and a strong support system.
Those things have been absent from Michigan State University in years past, but it’s clear they will be part of the solution moving forward.
So often, coaches and national pundits talk about “changing the culture” of a team or organization when a new coach is brought in. If Michigan State’s high-profile coaches can meet adversity head-on, as they often preach to their own players, and be a part of the changing of the culture in their own community, they can help the healing process.
If not, then it may be #TimesUp for them, as well.