ESPN: Nassar case part of wide pattern of MSU missteps

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis announces his retirement Friday. ESPN Outside the Lines published a report that says the university had a pattern of suppressing reports of sexual assault cases involving football and basketball players during the past 10 years.

East Lansing – While Michigan State continues to deal with the aftermath of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal, a report from ESPN’s Outside the Lines says issues with sexual assault and transparency in how the university has handled those incidents has been an ongoing problem.

The report into Michigan State and its athletic department “found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department … well beyond the highly publicized case of former MSU athletic physician Larry Nassar.”

A Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody was unavailable to comment on the report, but told ESPN, “Over the past several years, we have dedicated significant new resources to strengthening our efforts to combat sexual violence. Every day, people across campus are working diligently on this critical issue. We acknowledge, however, that we have sometimes fallen short of our goal and the expectations of others. It is clear more needs to be done, and we are using every resource available to get better.”

The ESPN report was released within in an hour of athletic director Mark Hollis’ announcement Friday morning that he was retiring; his last day on the job will be Wednesday. That came on the heels of President Lou Anna K. Simon stepping down Wednesday evening.

It’s all just days after Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years for sexually assaulting more than 100 young women, including some Michigan State students and student-athletes.

The report references the Nassar case but goes much further and says, “Even MSU's most-recognizable figures, football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo, have had incidents involving their programs, Outside the Lines has found.”

More: Full coverage: Larry Nassar abuse scandal

It said at least 16 football players since 2007, when Dantonio took over, have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women. The story cited a news conference Dantonio held last June when he was asked how he had previously handled sexual assault allegations.

“This is new ground for us," Dantonio said at the time. "We've been here 11 years – it has not happened previously."

ESPN in 2014, as part of reporting on 10 programs, requested copies of all police reports involving football and basketball players from campus and local police departments over six seasons. Michigan State provided the reports but redacted the names of the athletes. The East Lansing police did not. ESPN sued MSU for the release of material. ESPN was awarded the unredacted records after the Michigan courts ruled MSU had violated the state's open records laws.

ESPN’s report goes into great detail regarding multiple police reports involving athletes from men’s basketball and football.

Former basketball player Travis Walton was investigated for striking a woman at a bar in 2010 when he was a student assistant with the basketball team. According to the woman’s account, Walton struck her on the right side of her face and then hit the left side of her face with such force, she was knocked backward off the barstool. She made two hospital trips to treat her injuries, according to medical records. An arrest warrant for Walton was issued for misdemeanor assault and battery and Walton pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. The judge at the time said Walton could travel with the team.

On April 21, 2010, almost three weeks after the Spartans lost to Butler in the Final Four, Walton's assault and battery case was dismissed, and he instead pleaded guilty to a civil infraction for littering.

Walton is now an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers’ G-League team. He reportedly was placed on leave by the Clippers on Friday night.

More: Wojo: Simon is out, and MSU's woes just starting

ESPN’s report also references an August 2010 incident where a student accused then-MSU basketball recruits Keith Appling and Adreian Payne of sexually assaulting her in a campus dorm room. Charges were never filed and a Title IX investigation was eventually conducted that did not find Payne and Appling violated any policy.

The alleged victim responded by filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

There were several reports involving the Michigan State football team, although most did not result in charges.

On Aug. 31, 2009, a junior offensive tackle and his girlfriend accused each other of destructive and violent behavior. She admitted to campus police she had vandalized some of his belongings, and he admitted to trying to drag her out of her car. No charges were pursued.

A few months later on Dec. 18, 2009, a woman informed campus police that her boyfriend, a freshman defensive lineman, physically assaulted her after she hit him in the face. The player told police he was trying to restrain her and never kicked or hit her. She did not press charges and prosecutors dropped the case.

A woman told campus police on Jan. 17, 2010 that freshman wide receiver and another football player had raped her in November 2009, and she began drinking and had become suicidal. The players said the sex was consensual. No charges were filed.

On Aug. 31, 2013, a woman told campus police she had asked a freshman running back to say “please” when he told her to take her feet off a chair in his dorm, and he grabbed her with both hands around her arms and threw her up against a wall. The woman had some scrapes on her left side. The player told police he had not harmed her physically. She told police she wanted an apology, which he gave. No charges were filed.

A month later, Oct. 29, 2013, a woman reported to campus that after waking up following a night of drinking, she found a freshman football player removing her pants. He sexually assaulted her. The player told police she never told him to stop. The woman told campus police she would report the incident to Michigan State judicial services but would not prosecute. No charges were filed.

The parents of a deceased Michigan State student in May 2014 filed a report with campus police after finding a notebook from one of their daughter's therapy sessions. In the diary she detailed a 2007 gang rape that named four football players. Detectives spent months investigating the alleged rape but after their report was submitted in June 2015, the Ingham County prosecutor's office declined to file charges against any of the players. The office pointed out that the woman's writings could not be used as evidence and investigators could not independently corroborate her claims.