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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel addresses the controversy over the football team's handling of an injured player in last Saturday's game in Ann Arbor. John T. Greilick

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Less than 100 days into his tenure, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel's baptism by an athletic controversy has already helped him learn a lesson.

Speaking to UM alumni gathered for a reception for the president in Detroit on Thursday, Schlissel reiterated the university's failure in handling a football player's injury recently and vowed to make student athlete safety paramount in the future.

"We have one of the finest levels of team medical expertise in the country but our system failed," Schlissel said. "It is a critical lesson to us about how vigilant and disciplined we must always be to ensure every student athlete's safety. As president, I will take every step necessary to make sure that that occurs and to enforce appropriate accountability for player safety."

Schlissel's comments are the first he's made publicly since controversy erupted over UM's handling of quarterback Shane Morris, who was hurt during a university football game last weekend.

The sophomore from Warren made his first regular-season start Saturday. He suffered an ankle injury during the third quarter and a significant blow to the head during the fourth quarter, yet remained in the game for one play when the team was losing to Minnesota.

In the aftermath, conflicting statements were made by Athletic Director Dave Brandon and Coach Brady Hoke, including one issued in the middle of the night. It was later revealed that Morris suffered a mild concussion and a high ankle sprain.

Schlissel, who stepped into office in mid-July, issued a statement on Tuesday, three days after the incident. He repeated some of the statement Thursday night.

During his address to hundreds of alumi gathered at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, Schlissel said that he spoke with Morris on Wednesday night and he was doing fine, though still recovering from his ankle injury.

Schlissel told the crowd he has ordered a thorough review of game safety procedures, especially for head injuries. He also overviewed three steps to protect player safety, including putting a certified athletic training professional in the press box, adding two-way radio communication and taking helmets from players not medically cleared to play.

"This is my first priority, in a setting with a lot of noise, this is the focus — on the students," Schlissel said. "It's on immediately getting us to a place where we can do our very best to fulfill our obligations to students down on the field. pursing their sport and representing our great university."

He also promised transparency in the future.

"This is what we must stand for at the University of Michigan," Schlissel said. "I appreciate all the thoughtful comments I've received over the last few days. The depth and intensity of dedication from our community is what helps make Michigan a great and special institution. I value your support, I recognize your concern and we are listening.

"We know that we must find a way to maintain the traditions that we hold so dear while keeping our athletic department vibrant and competitive into the future. We are learning from our experiences."

Earlier in the evening, many alumni expressed frustration over how the university handled the controversy.

Jeffrey Holzhausen, who has had season tickets since 1990, called the situation a "Dumpster fire." He said Brandon, the athletic department director, should be held accountable and let go.

"I speak for 99.9 percent of fans and alumni," Holzhausen said. "We are a national embarrassment."

But Jerry May, UM development director, said he has received numerous calls of support.

"A number of people have called and said they are going to keep giving," May said. "Michigan people are very loyal."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and board of regent Chair Katherine White attended the gathering.

White declined to comment on the handling of the incident.

"I am not going to make any comments other than I affirm the president's comments," White said. "I am very pleased with his remarks."

Duggan added that he has been in the middle of a lot of crises and the hardest thing to do is stay calm and get through it.

"When I look at how the president has handled himself, the measured and thoughtful statement, he has handled the presidency in a way that should make us all feel proud," said Duggan, a UM alum.

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com

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