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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Tom Izzo, Mark Dantonio named in report about MSU sexual assault cover-ups

Tom Izzo
The Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal has led to questions about whether Michigan State has been taking appropriate action to handle sexual assault and violence complaints. According to a bombshell report released on Friday, the university has been making efforts to cover up cases of that nature for years, and the two most prominent Spartan coaches are now sure to face questions of their own.

A lengthy investigation from Paula Lavigne of ESPN’s Outside the Lines uncovered a pattern of “widespread denial, inaction and information suppression” with sexual assault complaints at Michigan State. The investigation showed that there have been incidents involving MSU’s basketball and football programs, and there have been indications that Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio were less than diligent in addressing serious allegations against their coaches and players.

According to public records obtained by OTL, at least 16 Michigan State football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women since Mark Dantonio took over the program in 2007. Despite that, Dantonio claimed back in June that allegations of that nature against his players were “new ground for us” after he decided to kick several players off the team who had been charged with sexual assault.

Lauren Allswede, a former Michigan State sexual assault counselor who left the university in 2015 because she was frustrated with the way the school was handling sexual assault cases, told OTL that complaints against players were routinely handled by MSU’s athletic administration. In one instance seven years ago, Allswede said a university attorney tried to assure her that coaches were taking sexual assault allegations seriously, noting that Dantonio dealt with one complaint by having a player speak with his mother about what he had done.

“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 said. “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.”

Another incident that is sure to raise questions about Izzo took place in January 2010, when then-junior Ashley Thompson says she was approached by former Spartans basketball player Travis Walton at a campus bar. Thompson says she was meeting with friends to memorialize a friend who had died in a car accident when Walton came to speak with her. When she indicated that she wanted him to leave, she claims Walton — who helped MSU win a national championship the year before and was then working as a graduate assistant for Izzo — became offended and said, “Don’t you know who I am?”

When Thompson “told (Walton) to not-so-politely F-off,” she says Walton got angry and struck her in the face two times and knocked her off her barstool. Medical records indicated she ended up in the hospital with a concussion and some minor injuries, and she filed a police report that night.

Walton was arrested for misdemeanor assault and battery two days later, and he pleaded not guilty and eventually had the case dismissed. He was allowed to travel with the team while the case was pending. The former assistant city attorney who handled the case told OTL witness statements contradicted Thompson’s account and there was not enough to prosecute.

“The prosecuting attorney called and told me, and I was absolutely livid,” Thompson says. “I was heartbroken. It was just very upsetting that someone with a little bit of pull around the school, because he was a basketball star or assistant coach, could kind of just do whatever he wanted and kind of get away with it.”

Walton told OTL the incident was a “false accusation” and said he could not remember what Izzo said about it. Less than a month later, he was named in a separate complaint from a student who accused him and two basketball players of sexual assault. The student and her parents filed a complaint with former athletic director Mark Hollis (who resigned on Friday), and they were told Hollis would “conduct his own investigation.” The woman and her mother later met with associate athletic director Alan Haller and were told the coaching staff had been informed and the incident was discussed with “the basketball team.”

After former Michigan State stars Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were accused of rape in August 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reached out to MSU officials to offer assistance because of the media coverage the case was getting. The victim later filed a complaint accusing Michigan State of not handling the incident properly.

When another female student accused MSU of mishandling a rape report in 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation. The investigation looked at 150 reports of sexual assault and violence instances from 2011-14 and found “significant concerns” with how the cases were handled about 20 percent of the time. Investigators determined that a “sexually hostile environment existed for and affected numerous students and staff on campus,” and MSU’s “failure to address complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, in a prompt and equitable manner caused and may have contributed to a continuation of this sexually hostile environment,” according to the report obtained by OTL.

As you can see, the trouble is just beginning for Michigan State. Izzo already went on record offering support for MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon last wake, and she has resigned in the wake of the Nassar scandal. Izzo was also blasted by U.S. gymnast Ally Raisman’s mother for a comment he made about Nassar.

Based on some of the things that were revealed in the OTL report, it would not be a surprise if Izzo ends up being forced out at Michigan State.



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