The Michigan State athletic department suppressed information related to sexual-assault allegations against the football and basketball teams, and along with campus police and university officials, fostered a culture of denial and inaction that stretched far beyond the failures of confronting former MSU athletic doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, according to an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report published Friday — not long after longtime athletic director Mark Hollis announced his retirement.
The report comes after president Lou Anna Simon announced her resignation Wednesday and Hollis resigned Friday, and in the wake of Nassar’s sentencing to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse stemming from his time as the Spartans’ doctor and USA Gymnastics’ team doctor.
Sixteen players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women under football coach Mark Dantonio’s watch since 2007, according to interviews and public records obtained by ESPN, despite the football coach addressing four football players in June as the first offenders he dealt with on any such issues. Four Spartans football players — Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance in a January 2017 incident, and Auston Robertson in an April 2017 incident — were dismissed last year and face criminal sexual-conduct charges.
Dantonio spoke to reporters before Michigan State’s basketball game in East Lansing and denied ESPN’s report. He also said rumors that he was planning to resign are “absolutely false.”
“Any accusations of my handling of any complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false,” he said. “Every incident reported in that article was documented by either police or the Michigan State Title IX office. I’ve always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with the cases of sexual -assault.”
Basketball coach Tom Izzo had several incidents occur under his watch, as well, including one that involved a former undergraduate student-assistant coach, Travis Walton, who was allowed to coach after he had been criminally charged with punching a female MSU student in the face at a bar in 2010. After the Final Four that year, Walton was accused of sexually assaulting a different MSU student. Walton, the 2009 Big Ten defensive player of the year, helped the Spartans reach the 2009 national title game.
Izzo spoke after the Spartans’ game, saying that he hasn’t fully studied ESPN’s report and that he isn’t retiring.
“I’m not going anywhere, in my mind,” he said. “I’m definitely not retiring.”
Asked if he is concerned about the future of the university and his team, Izzo said, “No. I’m concerned about the healing process. And I want to be a big part about helping it heal.”
Dozens of MSU students gathered on campus to protest the school’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations against Nassar.
Students at the game wore teal-colored T-shirts in the “Izzone,” a vocal student cheering section named after Izzo, to show their support.
In ESPN’s report, former Michigan State sexual-assault counselor Lauren Allswede was interviewed. The former Michigan State staffer of seven years left the university in 2015 because of how the athletic program covered up sexual-assault cases. Allswede said sexual-assault cases were handled or investigated by the athletic department, with Hollis and coaches of the players accused involved.
Said Allswede: “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. It was all happening behind closed doors. None of it was transparent or included people who would normally be involved in certain decisions.”
The ESPN report overlapped a Detroit Free Press investigation that began in 2017 that uncovered four more allegations of sexual assault against MSU football players. The investigation accounted for 11 of the 16 players reportedly accused of sexual assault on Dantonio’s watch since 2007.
The Athletic reported Friday that NCAA president Mark Emmert was alerted in November 2010 to 37 reports involving MSU athletes sexually assaulting women.
Also Friday, USA Gymnastics announced that the remaining 18 board members, who are unpaid volunteers representing various threads of the sport across the country, will leave their positions. The executive board, including chairman Paul Parilla, resigned Monday. The announcement came two days after an open letter from USOC chief operating officer Scott Blackmun called for a “full turnover of leadership.”
USA Today, Sun-Times wires