(This article is a collaborative piece written by Connor Matthes, Julia Swoish and Ben Lewis)
The last two weeks have been some of the darkest times for Michigan State and the surrounding community.
How could MSU do something like this? The lack of empathy and compassion for the victims of Nassar by people at the top of MSU’s administration was the single most disturbing and disgraceful thing I have ever witnessed. Though former President Lou Anna Simon stepped down from her position as a result of her negligence in handling the Nassar abuse cases, a step that should have been helpful for the forward progress of our university, it still left many dissatisfied. Simon’s resignation letter felt forced and insincere.
The letter opened with an apology, but not an apology for her own actions. Simon wrote, “I can never say enough that I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment.”
Albeit a fair statement, Simon made no apologies for her own actions, and rather stated that “as president, it is only natural that [she was] the focus of this anger” due to the situation being “politicized.” She made herself out to be some kind of martyr for the sins of others, when in reality she was an active participant in this university’s passive response to both Nassar and general sexual abuse.
The removal of Simon is only a start of our collective cleansing. The Board of Trustees, as well as our interim president John Engler, are deeply problematic. As long as they continue to serve, no change will really happen. It will just become a series of town halls with no actual progress. In order to truly move forward from the horrors of Nassar, we need to create active change to prevent them from happening again.
Lost in all this is the illusion that this is simply an athletic problem. This is a university problem. There’s a history of MSU’s indifference to victims and mishandling of cases. Per the Lansing State Journal over the course of four years starting in 2011 MSU’s Title IX department received 334 complaints relating to sexual or domestic misconduct and violence. The department only responded to 71 and only acted in 30. And of the cases that the Title IX department issued a ruling, Denise Maybank, MSU Vice President of student affairs and services, changed those rulings eight times.
A Department of Education investigation found that on multiple occasions MSU either didn’t properly respond to issues raised by students or flat out didn’t respond.
This is an issue so deeply rooted that gutting the athletic department or issuing a broad “death penalty” won’t solve. The death penalty is too broad, it shifts blame and consequences from the enablers and perpetrators. Ultimately, it will only serve to punish student athletes, who shouldn’t be blamed for institutional failings.
Those who mishandled cases should be suspended if not removed, those who were involved in any sort of cover-up should be removed.
Right now the best chance we have of uncovering the truth is the investigation being conducted by Attorney General Bill Schuette, although even his neutrality as an investigator can be called into question due to his financial relationship with MSU donor Peter Secchia. If we truly want to get to the bottom of this we as a community need to end the hero worship of Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo regardless of their innocence or guilt.
Following a recent ESPN Outside The Lines report alleging potential mishandlings of sexual abuse cases by Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo, many Spartan faithful have been quick to call for a boycott of ESPN. Despite any potential flaws in the report, writing it off as fake news is simply negligent. Make no mistake the Nassar scandal and the alleged mishandling of sexual assault claims by the athletic department, basketball team and football team are two separate cases.
For years, I thought of Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo as personal heroes. I remember eagerly watching Izzo’s improbable Final Four runs with rapt attention and I became close with my friends while watching Dantonio’s football team win the 2015 Big Ten championship. I thought of these men as Greek gods, incapable of fault.
I guess I was part of the problem.
In the wake of the ESPN report, I find myself questioning my admiration. This is by no means an indictment of these two, but they do have questions to answer.
I want those answers. The community needs those answers. The community deserves either the inconvenient truth, or hope in some form of positive leadership. But so far there have been no concrete answers given. And strangely, many Spartans don’t seem to want any.
A quick perusing of social media will show you a host of Spartan faithful refusing to acknowledge any possible wrongdoing by their idols. It’s understandable to be upset by watching a hero become fallible. It’s a lot like when you’re realize your parents aren’t invincible, perfect people. But if we want to heal the wounds caused by these heinous crimes and change the culture that places the feelings of powerful men over the safety of women, we have to acknowledge that Dantonio and Izzo are capable of mistakes. They may be innocent, they may be guilty. But one thing is for sure: We have to hold them accountable.
Every single testimony delivered against Larry Nassar should bring any decent human to tears. They’re all tales of a man using his position of power to abuse young women in heinous ways.
MSU could have stopped it. The first report of abuse was over 20 years ago. Others would follow in the years after. Nothing was done. Not a single thing. If that doesn’t infuriate and sadden you, I’m afraid you might not be human.
MSU administration is currently trying to save face, but also don’t seem to want to. They refuse to hear concerns of students and other concerned parties. Maybe they’re just afraid of the truth. Maybe they’re afraid to face their comeuppance as an institution that turned a blind eye to abuse both in the athletic department and in general. Maybe they want this all to blow over and hope we forget.
But those survivors don’t have the luxury of forgetting what happened to them. They don’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye and walking away from their responsibilities. They fought to bring justice to a monster. They are the heroes of this terrible story.
Now it falls to us. We can’t let this story fade away. We can’t let these brave survivors become just more numbers in a flawed system. We have to do everything we can to dismantle this system that victimized them. Write letters, sign petitions, protest, whatever it takes. We have to ensure that all people complicit in this abuse are removed. We have to hold all parties accountable. We have to end this. This isn’t an athletic story anymore. It’s a case of neglecting basic human rights. This problem runs deep through our university, and throughout the world, but we can make a difference. It’s daunting for sure, but this is our community we’re fighting for. And if anyone is up for a fight, it’s a Spartan.