Former sprinter sues Michigan State, claims she was discouraged from reporting alleged sexual assault

The Detroit News

A former sprinter on the Michigan State track team has filed lawsuits against Michigan State University and the NCAA saying she was discouraged from reporting her alleged sexual assault.

Former MSU student-athlete Emma Roedel, who eventually transferred to Grand Valley State, said she was raped by a member of the MSU men’s track team in 2017 while she was sleeping. He took a photo of her after the alleged assault and shared it with members of the men’s and women’s track teams on Snapchat.

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Roedel and an MSU student pursuing a career in sports journalism, Bailey Kowalski, are among seven women suing the NCAA for “failing to address gender-based violence committed by male student-athletes against female students and student-athletes.”

The lawsuits were filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids by Lansing attorneys Karen Truszkowski and Elizabeth Abdnour.

Roedel’s suit against MSU names former president Lou Anna Simon, former athletic director Mark Hollis, Title IX coordinator Jessica Norris and assistant track coach Yolanda Johnson.

Kowalski, in the suit against the NCAA, said she was sexually assaulted by three members of the Michigan State men’s basketball team in 2015. She has a Title IX lawsuit pending against MSU and indicated in the court filing that the Michigan State Counseling Center discouraged her from reporting the alleged assault.

The other women in the suit against the NCAA attended Nebraska and one was on the swim team of an unspecified school.

Roedel, a freshman at the time, said in the suit she was asleep in her dorm when she woke up at approximately 2 a.m. and was being raped by a male member of the MSU track team. She found out he had taken a photo of her while she was naked, except for her bra, and distributed it on Snapchat to the men’s and women’s teams. She called him and asked if he remembered what happened.

“(He) indicted he did remember and acknowledged that he sexually assaulted Roedel while she was asleep,” the suit alleges. “I apologize for everything. No excuse either way on my part,” he said to Roedel, according to the lawsuit

On March 7, Roedel reported the assault to assistant track coach Yolanda Johnson. Johnson notified the MSU police department of the sexual assault but not before telling Roedel that if she pursued any claims against the athlete, “no one would like her” and that because she is pretty “she would become a distraction,” according the suit.

Roedel said a in the suit that several members of the men’s track team confronted her in her dorm room and threatened her if she pursued charges. She declined to press criminal charges “in order to protect herself from harm by the men’s track team and from further retaliation.”

Johnson, according to the lawsuit, met with Roedel during finals week spring 2017 and said that because the male athlete was a sprinter, as was Roedel, she was being removed from the sprint squad. The teams practice together, and she could not be around him. Johnson told her she could run distance, but Roedel was not a distance runner.

Roedel transferred to Grand Valley and ran track, but eventually quit the team because she “found that her experience at MSU had destroyed her love of running,” according to the lawsuit, which said she suffered “severe emotional and physical distress” from the experience.

Kowalski, like Roedel, said Michigan State discouraged them from reporting sexual assaults by athletes. In the lawsuit of which they are a part against the NCAA, it alleges the governing body needs to do more to protect student-athletes.

NCAA president Mark Emmert sent a letter to the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes and, according to the lawsuit, “deflected blame and placed it on colleges and universities,” according to the lawsuit. The letter, according to the suit, “indicated a basic unwillingness to consider identifying sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence as possible NCAA violations.”