It was 1976. I was in the fifth grade and had moved to Michigan the year before from California. Already I had swapped my love of the Angels for the Tigers, and the Rams for the Lions (although that changed the following year when I decided to spare myself the trauma and become a Miami Dolphins fan).
But what college team would I like?
These were the heady days of Bo and Woody, and everyone — and I mean everyone — was a Wolverine fan. But somehow I wasn’t going to be like everyone. It just seemed too easy. Before I even knew what drugs were, the peer pressure to be a Wolverine fan was pretty intense. And that’s precisely why I became a Spartan fan. I didn’t want to be like everyone else.
And through the years I have maintained my Spartan pride.
After four days of wrenching testimony from dozens of young girls and women about the rape and torture they endured by disgraced former doctor Larry Nassar, I have only one emotion. Disgust. Wait, there is another. Anger.
Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and osteopathic physician at Michigan State University, pleaded guilty in November to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He will be sentenced next week after more than 120 of his victims have their moment to look him in the eye and say aloud what he did to them. His sentence will be added to the 60 years in prison he already is serving for a guilty plea to federal child pornography charges. Larray Nassar is unlikely to ever be a free man again. Which is, of course, how it should be. His evil, vile acts are at last being punished, however overdue it may seem.
But what about the university that enabled him, looking the other way while dismissing the complaints that came to them through the years? To get a sense of just how bad MSU has acted, please read this excellent piece by ESPN:
It does far better than I ever could laying out the criminal negligence the university has shown. And yet, the university is still contesting the numerous lawsuits filed against it by Nassar’s victims. Their victims. President Lou Anna Simon has been oblivious to the carnage her institution is responsible for, and she remains defiant. Only when the victim testimony began to be seen by the world and the outrage became global did she deign to show up in the courtroom for what was essentially a photo-op to try to save her job.
Much too little, much too late.
And then we learned Friday that the MSU Board of Trustees is in “circle the wagon” mode; giving Simon a thumbs up; saying it is in full support of her staying on. Ironically, after making that statement to reporters, trustees took no questions. Of course they didn’t, because they have no answers. At least not any they want us to hear.
There can be no doubt that this is the greatest sexual abuse case in the history of sports.
However, I have a suggestion.
The NCAA should ban Michigan State University from all postseason competition for at least a year. All of the teams. Yes, even the football team. They should also lose the ability to offer athletic scholarships for at least a year. Yes, even the basketball team.
Got your attention now? Because nothing else seems to be doing it for MSU’s administration. Yes, I realize there will be hand-wringing and an outcry about how it’s not fair. And they will be right. It isn’t fair. But as I often tell my 9-year-old: Who said life was fair?
Was it fair for children to be raped, literally, while their mothers were in the same room?
Was it fair for their complaints to be ignored by the very people they trusted were looking out for their best interests?
What happened, and is continuing to happen at MSU is no different than what occurred at Penn State during the Jerry Sandusky scandal. That university also circled the wagons and tried to make it all go away. It didn’t work. The Freeh Report, commissioned in the aftermath, concluded that, “the most senior leaders at Penn State showed a “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims” for 14 years and “empowered” Jerry Sandusky to continue his abuse. The NCAA used that report to impose a $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban, scholarship reductions, and vacated all victories from 1998 to 2011. At the time, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the sanctions were levied “not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.”
I think a very good case can be made that MSU also showed a “total disregard for the safety and welfare” of child victims, as well as “empowered” Nassar to continue the abuse. And remember those tough words from the NCAA about prioritizing child safety above sports? Nice words perhaps, but the NCAA later rescinded the postseason ban, restored the scholarships, and re-credited Penn State with their victories.
Gee, sure taught them a lesson, right?
But times have changed. We seem to be at an intersection as a society about how women are regarded, or disregarded as the case may be. MSU has the misfortune of having this all come into public view at the height of the #MeToo era. I suspect (or maybe just naively hope) that this will not fade away. Because it shouldn’t. We can’t let that happen.
Michigan State University may be an educational institution, but they are about to get schooled.