Overtime: Lack of Institutional Decency

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in January 2018.

Michigan State has been one of the most successful sports programs in the country over the past 20 years. From three Big Ten championships in football to seven Final Four appearances in men’s basketball, the Spartans have become one of the most respected programs in college sports.

Over that same period of time, though, they willfully whitewashed the wrongdoings of multiple staff members and let a sexual predator roam their campus under the guise of “medical attention.” And that’s a little more important.

Yes, while the Spartans were cutting down the nets and going to major bowl games, their university engaged in a cover-up to protect university physician and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar from losing his job after he sexually assaulted at least 150 underage girls, including U.S. Gymnastics medalists Aly Raisman, Simone Biles and many, many others: The breadth of the individuals Nassar abused could fill the length of at least three of these Overtime articles.

Nassar was sentenced last week to 40 to 175 years in prison, and will likely never see life outside a prison facility ever again. Had it not been for the complaints of two American gymnasts in September 2016, Nassar would likely still be practicing medicine today. The Nassar trial has been exhausted thoroughly in the media, and the exploits of a predatory clown like him do not deserve to be rehashed here.

This is not just about Nassar. It’s about a larger pattern of injustice and lack of institutional control that has taken place at Michigan State over the past 20 years. Not coincidentally, the same amount of time that their stock has surged as one of the best programs in the country.

On Friday, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” published a report stating that a former assistant basketball coach was allowed to stay at the school after punching a female student in the face at a bar in 2010. This report comes on the heels of the resignations of both the athletic director and the president of the university. There were other cases as well; the questionable handling of a sexual abuse case involving two basketball players, the accusation of 16 football players committing sexual assault and, of course, the Nassar case.

And where was the NCAA in all of this? Well, all of these accusations say nothing of the fact that Mark Emmert was personally notified of the Nassar allegations all the way back in 2010. In response to this, the NCAA – and this will absolutely shock you – did nothing. That may be a lesser-publicized aspect of this horrific story, but it’s true. While the natural inclination is to burn Emmert in effigy every time a controversial incident occurs involving the NCAA’s incompetence, the organization’s board of directors holds equal, if not more, culpability in allowing Nassar to continue his practice when they knew very well that his “practice” involved abusing literally hundreds of underage girls.

We live in a fascinating time in sports, culture and the world. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have transformed Hollywood and alerted the world to an epidemic of sexual misconduct amongst actors, directors and other industry powers-that-be. Those movements have come to sports too and they even forced an NFL owner (the Panthers’ Jerry Richardson) to sell his team. This reckoning is long overdue, and while sports has not seen as extensive of an impact from it, players, coaches and executives could learn a thing or two from it. One of the people who falls into that group is former Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon.

In her statement announcing her resignation from the university over this mess, Simon said that “as tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable”. With respect, ma’am, the people placing blame on you for this situation are absolutely right. While much time has been spent dissecting Nassar’s actions over the past 20 years or so, he had his fair share of enablers. Those include Simon and recently-resigned athletic director Mark Hollis, who oversaw Nassar’s predatory behavior and purported sexual misconduct by multiple members of the football and basketball programs. And frankly, enough people have been accused of these crimes for anyone to figure out that this a troubling pattern of behavior and not an isolated incident involving just one or two Spartans athletes.

Larry Nassar is an abhorrent human being and deserves to be eviscerated for what he did as a “doctor”. But let’s not forget about his enablers in this situation. This was the classic case of a difficult situation that should have required a very simple solution on the part of Michigan State’s administration and governing body. The move should have been to investigate Nassar and, when the hypothetical probe found his wrongdoing, to fire him. How difficult is that? But Michigan State’s administrators continually stepped around this situation and others at the university. Instead of holding those involved accountable for their actions, the school turned a blind eye to the matters at hand.

Last week, the law finally put Larry Nassar to justice. Now, the NCAA needs to do the same to Michigan State.

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