The instances of alleged sexual assault and violence toward women amid the Michigan State football program under Mark Dantonio went well beyond what was previously reported.
The offseason before the 2017 season was marred by two investigations into alleged sexual assault by Michigan State football players, one involving three players, and a separate involving another. All four were dismissed from the program and removed from school, but a detailed report from ESPN’s Outside The Lines shows those investigations were just two of the many involving the football program in recent years.
Dating back to the beginning of Dantonio’s time at MSU, 2007, Outside the Lines reported Friday that “at least 16” MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women. On top of that, the report says Dantonio involved himself in the discipline one the player involved “in at least one of the cases several years ago.”
In that instance, Lauren Allswede, a former sexual assault counselor at MSU, told Outside the Lines that Dantonio dealt with a sexual assault accusation against one player by simply talking to the player’s mother about it.
Allswede told Outside the Lines that about seven years ago, an attorney from the university’s general counsel’s department came to her office to try to reassure her that coaches were taking allegations of sexual violence seriously. Allswede says the attorney told her how Dantonio, the football coach, had dealt with a sexual assault accusation against one of his players: He had the player talk to his mother about what he had done.
Six previous incidents involving football that were investigated by campus police but were not public knowledge include three reports of violence against women and three alleged sexual assaults. Those included three alleged rapes, including one gang rape:
In May 2014, the parents of a deceased Michigan State student filed a report with campus police after they found a notebook from one of their daughter’s therapy sessions. The writings detailed a 2007 gang rape that named four football players. Detectives started what would become a months-long investigation involving multiple records, analysis and interviews. In June 2015, campus police sent its report to the Ingham County prosecutor’s office, which declined to file charges against any of the players, noting that the woman’s writings could not be used as evidence and investigators were unable to independently corroborate her claims.
OTL says it could not corroborate “whether campus police or any university administrator ever notified Dantonio about the incidents, or if they did, whether the coach ever disciplined any of the players.”
The incidents discovered involving the football program follow a pattern of handling allegations of assault by keeping them inside the walls of athletic director Mark Hollis’ department.
Allswede, whose former office worked with students who reported assaults, told Outside the Lines she is not familiar with any of the sexual assault reports discovered in the police documents but that does not mean they had not been reported. She says she counseled at least five women who reported being sexually assaulted by male student athletes and was aware, via her colleagues, of possibly 10 others. She said she suspected even more, especially cases in which the person reporting the assault was also a student athlete, because of the practice of the athletic department to keep such issues in house.
“As a Big 10 university with high-profile football, basketball and hockey programs, they want to protect the integrity of the programs — don’t want scandal, don’t want sexual assault allegations, or domestic violence allegations,” Allswede says. “None of it was transparent. It was very insulated, and people were a lot of times discouraged from seeking resources outside of the athletic department. I think that the athletic department wanted to keep control over that information.”
Michigan State has come under fire in recent months for its handling of allegations against Larry Nassar, the former athletic physician for the school and USA Gymnastics. Reportedly as far back as 1997, athletes told MSU officials that Nassar was assaulting them under the guise of medical treatment for decades. More than 150 of them spoke at Nassar’s sentencing hearing, which spanned multiple days. Nassar was ultimately sentenced to up to 175 years in prison earlier this week.
The fallout from the Nassar scandal led to the resignation of president Lou Anna Simon, and on Friday, Hollis followed suit. Hollis reportedly knew the Outside the Lines investigation was coming around the corner. He tearfully announced his retirement a few hours before it was published.
Over the last few years, Michigan State and ESPN have fought in court over the release of information, specifically the names of MSU athletes. Michigan court ultimately ruled that MSU violated open records laws by withholding information. That led to ESPN accessing unredacted police reports, ultimately resulting in Friday’s Outside the Lines report.
As part of a 2014 reporting effort spanning 10 universities, ESPN requested copies of all police reports involving football and basketball players from campus and local police departments over six seasons. In Michigan State’s case, the university supplied the reports but marked out the players’ names — something East Lansing police did not do. ESPN ultimately sued MSU for the release of material, and Michigan courts ruled that the school had violated the state’s open records laws, awarded ESPN the unredacted records, and told MSU to pay ESPN’s attorneys’ fees. When ESPN submitted a subsequent records request last year, MSU took the unusual step of proactively suing ESPN to defend its withholding of the documents. A judge, in dismissing the lawsuit, wrote that a public body filing suit against a requestor could create a “chilling effect” and dissuade people from requesting records in the first place.
The NCAA confirmed earlier this week that it has opened up an investigation into Michigan State and how it handled the Nassar case. Whether that extends into other parts of the athletic department remains to be seen.
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