Note* I have included my sources at the end of the article.
The trial of Larry Nassar has been a horrifying spectacle with wide ranging fallout. Nassar was sentenced this month, and he will spend the rest of his life rotting behind bars. With the dust of the trial settled, in its wake are nearly 200 victims, and upheavals at USA gymnastics and Michigan State University. Even a cursory look into the case leaves one scratching their head as to how such a massive injustice could take place. I wanted to dig a little deeper, especially into Michigan State University, to see exactly what transpired, and what type of environment could harbor such a toxic man. The short answer I came to: Michigan State University sold out the victims of Larry Nasser in order to protect their own reputation, and especially to protect the school’s football and basketball programs.
Let’s take a quick look at Nassar’s tenure at Michigan State. He began as a sports medicine doctor there in 1998. Reports of abusive behavior emerged almost immediately, and nothing was done; the beginning of a troubling pattern. Allegations came from a player on the softball team, a track and field athlete, and a gymnast. The softball and track athlete reported Nassar’s actions to the athletic trainers, but these trainers assured them that Dr. Nassar was a “world class” doctor and that his methods were legitimate. There is also evidence that the head gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages, knew about allegations as far back as 1998. Dr. Nassar was also briefly investigated by the Merdian Township Police, but no charges were filed.
Over 120 women have accused Nasser of abusing them while he worked for Michigan State. From the late 1990s until 2014, any and all accusations were pushed aside, with victims being told that Larry Nasser was a world class Olympic doctor. It is maddening to think that these victims were made to feel so powerless, and that this man kept his job for so long! How did this happen?
It is clear that Michigan State University mishandled the complaints of their athletes, but a closer look shows some real toxicity under the surface. It all centers on a 2014 Title IX investigation that looks to me to be a cover-up, with efforts to not only silence Nasser’s victims, but to shield the football and basketball programs as well.
First, let’s take a look at the 2014 Title IX investigation. Part of Title IX requires that universities investigate and adjudicate ######-harassment cases that involve students. The Title IX complaint came from former student-athlete Amanda Thomashow, who claimed that Nasser massaged her breasts and ###### during a “treatment” session. The complaint was handled by MSU, and Nassar was cleared of any wrong doing. We now know that Nassar had been abusing patients at MSU for more than 10 years at the time of the complaint, so how could he come back clean?
From top to bottom, the 2014 investigation was, at best, mishandled, and at worst purposefully torpedoed. The case was investigated by Christine Moore who was the school’s Title IX coordinator and a full-time employee of Michigan State. Moore is now the Assistant General Counsel at Michigan State University. For her investigation, Moore spoke with three medical specialists and an athletic trainer, and all four said that Nassar’s methods were “medically appropriate”. The problem I have is that all four of these individuals worked for Michigan State University and knew Dr. Nassar personally. This is either a problematic conflict of interest, shoddy investigative work, or an attempt to whitewash the facts.
The problems don’t end there. According to 2011 Title IX enforcement guidelines, schools must take steps to prevent “reoccurrence of ###### assault”. After the 2014 investigation, Nassar was supposed to have a female staff member present whenever he treated a female athlete, but it looks like this was never enforced. Furthermore, Title IX states that the school must notify all parties of the findings of the investigation. Michigan State sent Amanda Thomashow an edited version of the report that had key facts redacted or watered down. Finally, the most egregious error was that Michigan State did not notify any other organization, not the NCAA nor USA Gymnastics, that Nassar was being investigated for potential ###### assault. Dr. Nassar continued to work with athletes through USA Gymnastics and the private club Twistars for another two-and-a-half years. During those two-and-a-half years he molested 20 more girls. In short, the 2014 investigation was completely bungled, and this mishandling had serious consequences for Nassar’s victims.
Why did the investigation go so awry? The above errors go way beyond mere incompetence. The main question I have is why the school didn’t have the investigation handled by a third-party. Most institutions choose to use a third party when complaints go beyond one single instance and begin to reach into the inner workings of the school, as the Nassar case certainly did.
Was Larry Nassar really that important to Michigan State that they would protect him with the phony investigation? Perhaps the story goes deeper. To connect the dots, let’s shift the focus a bit to what had been going on behind the scenes of Michigan State’s basketball and football programs.
A recent ESPN Outside the Lines report revealed some very troubling occurrences surrounding Michigan State’s basketball and football programs. One particularly troubling incident came in 2011 when then assistant basketball coach Travis Walton allegedly assaulted a woman in an East Lansing bar. The woman says that Walton punched her in the face when she rebuffed his advances. She went to the hospital with a concussion and reported the assault to the police. Details of the encounter were passed on to Athletic Director Mark Hollis, who then discussed the charges with Michigan State basketball staff. Walton was allowed to continue coaching, and he eventually pled guilty to an unrelated littering charge.
Walton’s story does not end there.
Walton and two Michigan State players were accused of gang raping a woman. The woman reported her allegations to the athletic department. Again, Mark Hollis reported the allegations to coach Tom Izzo’s staff, but Walton and the two players were allowed to continue working and playing. The allegations were never reported to the police nor to the school’s Title IX representative, as required by federal law.
Similar problems existed within the football program as well. Since 2007, sixteen Michigan State football players have been accused of ###### assault or violence against women. According to the Outside the Lines report, at least one of these incidents have been handled “in-house”. Coach Mark Dantonio’s method of rectifying these accusations was by having the player involved “talk to his mom about what he had done”.
Clearly, Michigan State had no interest in properly handling any accusations that involved their football or basketball programs. So what does this have to do with Larry Nassar? Let me connect the dots.
In 2014 (the same year as the Title IX investigation into Nassar), ESPN did a wide-ranging report about how elite college athletes were given special treatment when they found themselves in trouble with the law. Along with Michigan State, ESPN investigated Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Texas A&M, and Wisconsin. (As a surprise to no one, ESPN found that football and basketball players do indeed seem to operate under different laws than the rest of us.) While ESPN was researching the story, they requested from the schools any police reports involving basketball and/or football players. Michigan State supplied the reports, but had all of the players’ names blacked out. ESPN sued to get the uncensored accounts, and Michigan courts ruled in favor of ESPN saying that Michigan State violated open records laws. As we now know, Michigan State had a lot to hide when it came to how criminal activities of basketball and football players were handled.
It was the desire to keep these crimes hidden that drove Michigan State to keep the 2014 Title IX investigation in-house. ESPN was snooping around the athletic department at the same time as the investigation, and this scared MSU. Certainly, a full on the level Title IX investigator would have uncovered not only the mishandling of complaints against Nassar, but also the toxic cesspool of how ###### assault crimes involving football and basketball players were swept under the rug.
So, Michigan State kept the Title IX investigation in-house, didn’t report to the NCAA or police about Nassar; didn’t enforce any necessary changes to Nassar’s treatments; and wrote a phony report to Amanda Thomashow. This fraud of an investigation allowed Nassar to continue to abuse women and girls, and got him off the hook for his crimes dating all the way back to 1998. Michigan State sold out all of those women and girls so no one would go snooping around their basketball and football programs!
How could something like this happen? How could so many people willfully turn a blind eye to so many people getting hurt? I hate to be cynical, but the answer is easy:
In 2013, the year before the investigation, the Spartans won the Big 10 football crown, and the basketball team was ranked number one. These two power houses were able to bring in $97 million in revenue. Clearly, Michigan State sold out the victims of Larry Nassar to protect the big moneymaking sports.
Do I think this is solely a Michigan State problem? Absolutely not. Michigan State wasn’t even the top earner in the Big Ten that year; they were seventh. Top honors go to the University of Wisconsin, who pulled in $192 million. There are no accusations of wrongdoing at the University of Wisconsin, but I can only take an educated guess that all big earning programs would do anything to protect their teams. We need only look to Penn State and the tragedies surrounding that monster Jerry Sandusky to see how far people will go to protect a top program.
The root of the problem lies in the massive amount of money these big sports bring in. We’ve seen time and time again (just read the above ESPN article..) criminal activity being swept under the rug to prevent any real repercussions that may threaten the cash cow. How can we ever expect these crimes to stop? We have to some way uncouple the sports from the institutions OR when these crimes happen, justice must be swift and the punishment must deter any other schools from harboring criminals. For example, I thought that Penn State should have received the “death penalty” for their mishandling of Jerry Sandusky. Michigan State should be similarly punished if it comes out that there was an effort to cover up crimes committed by athletes and by Larry Nassar.
Something has to change with how we treat our elite athletic programs. Who knows how many other Larry Nassars there are out there who are allowed to fester because the powers that be don’t want to upset the apple cart. Penn State got the equivalent of a slap on the wrist for their misdeeds. Here’s hoping that, should malfeasance be uncovered at MSU, the NCAA can have the courage to do what’s right.