SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Nancy Armour believes the court system served justice with Nassar’s sentencing of up to 175 years in prison, however, there are many lessons still needed to be learned from this nightmare of a story. USA TODAY Sports
Reporters are often asked who we root for. People assume that we grew up sports fans, so we must have favorite teams, players and coaches. I always explain it like this: we root for good stories and no overtime. And while we don’t pull for particular coaches or programs, I don’t think it ever bothers reporters when they see a coach who is kind, and easy to work with, have success.
That’s part of why the news about Michigan State is so jarring. Hall of Fame basketball coach Tom Izzo, a respected figure in East Lansing for decades, was one of the good guys.
But detailed reporting from ESPN’s Outside the Lines painted an alternative picture last week with a massive story alleging multiple allegations of sexual assault by MSU football and basketball players and how the university mishandled those allegations and subsequent reporting to the authorities. It includes allegations against former Spartan standout and one-time student assistant Travis Walton, who was first accused of punching a female student at a bar and then, after no charges were filed in that case, later accused of gang rape. (Walton has denied the accusations.)
Sexual assault is a complex issue with a lot of layers. It’s only in the last three to five years that college athletics — and particularly the white men who run college athletics — have come to understand the systemic failures in the legal system that often result in victims not wanting to come forward, or no charges being brought. Many people have long assumed that if you weren’t charged it’s because you weren’t guilty. In reality, a prosecutor only brings charges if he/she thinks a case is winnable, and sexual assault and sexual violence are very hard to prove.
All of this is to say, I’m not convinced that Izzo (and football coach Mark Dantonio, for that matter) are guilty of any wrongdoing. But I am convinced that the longer Izzo stays silent, the worse he looks.
It’s seems pretty obvious the Michigan State general council — which came off looking horrible in the OTL report — is telling Izzo to keep quiet. I also think, based on his body language, that he doesn’t want to do that. His program is being dragged through the mud, and he’d probably like to defend it.
Well, there’s no time like the present. Michigan State hosts Penn State in the Breslin Center on Wednesday, and Izzo will have the podium to himself afterward.
On Sunday, Izzo declined to answer multiple questions from a reporter in a news conference at Maryland. That evening, rape survivor and sexual assault awareness advocate Brenda Tracy tweeted, “I spent an hour on the phone w(sic) Izzo last April discussing me possibly working with his team. His rhetoric was full of victim blaming. It was upsetting to say the least. I don’t even think he realized how bad it was. I hope he’s sincere when he says now he stands with survivors.”
I spent an hour on the phone w Izzo last April discussing me possibly working with his team. His rhetoric was full of victim blaming. It was upsetting to say the least. I don’t even think he realized how bad it was. I hope he’s sincere when he says he now stands with survivors. https://t.co/SWKtHGafgz
— Brenda Tracy (@brendatracy24) January 29, 2018
Monday, I called Tracy to talk more about what’s happening at Michigan State. I told her I felt conflicted about some pieces of the report — like should we hold people accountable for something that happened 10 years ago, when maybe 10 years ago they honestly didn’t know better?
“It’s not necessarily about individual stuff, it’s about a culture and the lens we look through,” Tracy said. “Right now, it looks like a systemic failure by the whole campus. It takes a village to create that kind of chaos.”
She also said something that applies to almost any scenario: When I asked how we give someone grace to change and evolve while holding them accountable at the same time, Tracy said, “Forgiveness is not the absence of consequences.”
There is so much truth to that statement. It’s also true that the first step in any of this is transparency, which Michigan State has thus far refused to offer.
This season, the Spartans have worn shirts that read “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME, IT’S ABOUT US” on the front. Izzo has tried to play the same card, saying that this is time to talk about the survivors, not himself. Wrong. I’m sure the survivors around Michigan State — many of them assaulted by former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar — want answers about how their university handled sexual assault reports. More important, they deserve answers. So does the entire community.
Izzo is bigger than the university and if he has to defy university lawyers — who are surely only trying to protect the MSU brand, not Izzo the individual — in order to speak, so be it. He is the face of Michigan State. He needs to talk.
He can start Wednesday night.