This has been a popular, successful, even irrefutable, creed Michigan State University has adopted during the past decade in firming its mission, goals and fundraising energies.
It’s solid and even a tad playful, with the word “will” doubling as a noun or a verb, depending upon one’s interpretation or experience.
Where the phrase teeters is when “will” fails to touch realities tied to revelations, beyond horrific, that have convicted a doctor, Larry Nassar, of sexual assault and that on Wednesday will see him sentenced for crimes against 140 or more women and girls who either were athletes at MSU or with USA Gymnastics.
MSU confirmed Tuesday night, that the NCAA has sent a letter of inquiry to the school, formally opening an investigation into how the university handled Nassar’s case.
“The NCAA has requested information from Michigan State about any potential rules violations,” said Donald M. Remy, the association’s chief legal officer, on Tuesday.
There was inadequate “will” expressed when MSU chose to have outside law firms investigate Nassar’s role and refused to disclose details of that investigation. The same school, it should be noted, now wants an attorney general running for higher office in 2018 to follow up with its own probe.
There was inadequate “will” displayed when 14 people at MSU were made aware of complaints against Nassar and little, initially, was done.
There was deficient “will” on the part of a Board of Trustees that last week decided President Lou Anna Simon should receive full support rather than face accountability which, quite apart from slapping her with responsibility, would have been a seemingly reasonable act by her bosses in the wake of an event so destructive.
The destruction has been there for all to absorb. And to shudder at. It has come by way of voices from women who have testified at Nassar’s sentencing hearing. Their words, strong and angry and soaked in pain, have been shattering for a public that could not have known sufficiently how monstrous were a man’s acts repeated, against scores of women, during so many years.
A nation has heard all of this. And a nation, as anyone who has listened to the outrage from coast to coast has learned, is incensed that MSU has done little in the way of firing anyone, or requesting a resignation, or exercising authority that might make clear this university has a grasp of that word again: accountability.
Business as usual
Three executives with USA Gymnastics on Monday resigned. MSU’s leadership remains intact.
If the concern is conceding liability when so many civil suits are sure to begin flooding courtrooms in Lansing and elsewhere, MSU’s vulnerability, it would appear, hardly exceeds that of USA Gymnastics, which didn’t deem “full support” as a viable alternative when three officials Monday were shown the gate.
What the past week has shown is that MSU doesn’t seem to understand some irony at work here.
The university has craved national status and respect. It has gained it, and properly so, from its global academic enrichment and achievement, to, on a lesser but more visible level, its celebrity football and basketball teams.
But so often, as would be submitted by one of its own graduates, MSU fails to see its place on that same national stage. It can turn as insular and as self-protective as the Board turned last Friday when Simon’s ouster was anticipated and warranted and instead led to a forward-march salute from the trustees.
America, a good portion of it anyway, is incensed. A measure of justice, of acknowledgment, of recognition, was owed the abused women, and even others who understand what happened and who cannot fathom that acts so evil continued for so long against so many.
These calls for redress have their foundation. And, while lawyers might differ, they don’t necessarily jettison due-process concerns for Simon, nor elevate MSU’s liability that, by the time suits play out, could result in settlements beyond anything that today might be forecasted.
It required a Board to act sensibly and appropriately last week. It called for a Board to answer questions in advance of trustee Joel Ferguson’s interview Tuesday on Lansing radio with sportscaster Tim Staudt, during which Ferguson managed to infuriate just about everyone with his suggestion the Board talked for all of 10 minutes about Simon and that MSU in January of 2018 was about topics and events other than Nassar.
That there was no conversation between Board members and the media after Friday’s sanctioning of Simon is why it was left, terribly unfairly, for two coaches, Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo, to later speak on MSU’s behalf.
This wasn’t their job. It was the Board’s. Dantonio coaches football. Izzo runs the basketball team. It was not their place to render job-approval views on Simon with respect to a matter of this magnitude.
Izzo and Dantonio are MSU employees and were being asked to appraise their boss, an empty exercise that did no one any good and a couple of days later led to embarrassed amendments by Izzo.
Izzo, though, knows something about this institutional thirst for national recognition and the contradictory posture sometimes taken in East Lansing. He has his own experience in how a university can often be selective about its limelight.
Eight years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers came calling. Izzo spent nine days considering a move to the NBA. The college basketball galaxy, in which Izzo has a prominent planetary presence, saw this as riveting drama and the whole episode was followed with a fixation Izzo and MSU have earned.
Izzo decided in time to stick in East Lansing. At that night’s news conference, which should have been a celebratory party on the level of an election-night victory bash, Simon instead decided MSU would turn the affair into a media evisceration. Nine days of Izzo’s deliberations, with MSU’s elite national program in danger of seeing its commander skip to the NBA and LeBron James, had not been covered in ways the president found agreeable.
Simon that evening showed MSU could not accept the very status it had sought. A university failed to understand that, as much as its own alums and fans, a nation had also been watching and wondering about a coach’s fate.
More grievously, far more grievously, neither did the Board appear to get it last Friday when much of the country wondered how a university, other than tossing a second investigation to an opportunistic attorney general, might act in the name of compassion and simple justice as courtroom sobbing and memories flowed.
It’s important to understand there were fair-minded folks who saw a failing here. It’s essential to acknowledge there were those who believed mayhem on this level called for something serious and immediate. It’s necessary, too, to accommodate views from those who have listened to the victims and who have considered a university’s failings — and the profound lack of Spartans will.