Michigan State University’s top two coaches said they have no plans to quit their jobs despite a damning ESPN “Outside the Lines” report that claimed the school mishandled complaints of sexual abuse and violence against women involving its athletic department.
Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo ― head coaches of MSU’s football and basketball teams, respectively ― sought Friday night to tamp down rumors of their departures following the ESPN report.
The school’s sexual abuse scandal began with accusations of serial assault of female gymnasts by former MSU doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced earlier this week to a lengthy prison term on seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct. MSU President Lou Anna Simon and Athletic Director Mark Hollis bowed to pressure to resign amid criticisms that school officials mishandled complaints of sexual abuse by Nassar years before he was formally charged in 2016.
But the scope of the scandal is widening. According to the ESPN report, MSU has attempted to shield people in its football and basketball programs accused of sexual abuse and violence against women in order to maintain the school’s reputation. ESPN said it found a “pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression” in MSU’s response to sexual assault complaints involving the school’s athletic department.
At least 16 members of the football team have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women since Dantonio became head coach in 2007, ESPN reported, based on interviews and public records.
Dantonio called claims that he mishandled such accusations “completely false.” At a brief press conference, he said that “every incident reported in that article was documented by either police or the Michigan State Title IX office” that deals with gender equality issues.
He added: “I have always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with the cases of sexual assault.”
Rumors that he would be resigning are “absolutely false,” Dantonio also said.
The ESPN report said Dantonio appeared to make a false statement to reporters last spring when he referred to abuse complaints made against football players in 2017 as “new ground for us.”
The coach began his Friday remarks by addressing the scores of young women abused by Nassar. “It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear their stories and the pain and suffering they went through,” he said.
Izzo, asked about the ESPN report following a MSU basketball game, said he hadn’t had enough time to think about it.
“We will cooperate with any investigation going forward,” he said. “That’s about all I have to say about it.”
Asked about the resignation rumors, Izzo said, “I’m not going anywhere, in my mind.”
He added: “I’m definitely not retiring. And there’s a lot of things that happened today that are part of life. I’m gonna worry about my team, I’m gonna worry about the survivors, I’m gonna worry about what I do.”
In one incident detailed in the ESPN report, a student basketball coach, Travis Walton, was allowed to continue working after he was charged with assaulting a woman at a bar. Walton allegedly became agitated when the women asked him to leave her table, where she and a group were commemorating a deceased friend.
Later, a woman went to then-Athletic Director Hollis to accuse Walton and two MSU basketball players of raping her. According to ESPN, the student coach was dismissed from his job, but the players stayed on the team and in school.
The woman did not pursue her allegation with police, ESPN reported.
Sources told the outlet that abuse complaints involving members of MSU’s athletic department were often handled internally, sometimes even by coaches.
The Nassar case, which affected several of the country’s finest women gymnasts, raised sharp questions over MSU’s ability to process abuse complaints. Young women and girls reported the now-disgraced physician multiple times over decades, but he was not stopped.
A Lansing State Journal report published Friday accused the university of withholding information about an investigation it conducted into Nassar’s behavior following a 2014 complaint because it could open the school to lawsuits.
MSU is currently under investigation by the NCAA and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
The NCAA, however, faced criticisms of its own when The Athletic outlet reported on Friday that the group’s president, Mark Emmert, was told about more than three dozen sexual assault reports made against MSU athletes, but did nothing about it.
MSU students showed support for abuse survivors at the school’s Friday night basketball game. Decked out in teal, the official color of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, some had adorned their outfits with poignant phrases from statements Nassar’s 160-plus accusers read in court this month.