Interim president John Engler issued a fiery defense of Michigan State against an ESPN report linking the Larry Nassar scandal with the university’s football and men’s basketball programs, slamming the network for what he termed “a sensationalized package of reporting.”
Engler sent an email to MSU students and faculty Tuesday afternoon updating them on the multiple investigations going on involving the case of Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics sports medicine doctor who pleaded guilty last month to multiple charges of assaulting girls and women under the guise of medical treatment over the past 20 years.
Engler, the former Michigan governor, reserved the later portion of his email to send strong words at ESPN about its investigative story alleging a culture of sexual assaults and violence against women by players on Mark Dantonio’s football team and Tom Izzo’s hoops team over the past decade. Engler did not name either coach by name.
“Finally, I viewed with great concern a recent ESPN report that gathered considerable national attention in no small part because it showed a promotional graphic of our head football and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar,” Engler wrote. “This was a sensationalized package of reporting that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing. The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined. That has been a burden that must be lifted. I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.”
ESPN's media relations division issued a brief statement Tuesday evening about Engler's comments: “We stand by our reporting.”
ESPN published an Outside the Lines story on Jan. 26, about two hours after Mark Hollis abruptly announced his retirement as athletic director and two days after Lou Anna K. Simon announced her retirement as MSU’s president.
In its report, ESPN detailed 16 football players and five basketball players who were alleged to have committed sexual assaults and/or violent attacks on women. A Free Press investigation, which began in 2017, also published that day and identified three previously unreported sexual assault reports involving six former players, bringing the total to 11 players involved in six alleged sexual assault reports during Dantonio’s tenure that began in 2007.
Read Engler’s full email below.
On this second day of my second week as interim president, I think it is important to address several matters many of you have raised with me.
Everyone knows the Nassar case is an international story. As he begins serving his sentence in a federal prison in Arizona, we are all still struggling to comprehend the extent of the damage he inflicted on so many girls and young women, and on their families.
Questions about how this could have happened and what must be done to prevent it from ever happening again are the subject of multiple inquiries. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education is conducting a Clery program review, the U.S. Senate has requested information, and the U.S. House of Representatives has two inquiries underway. The NCAA also is seeking information from us. In Michigan, the House of Representatives is requesting production of documents and the Attorney General’s Office, at MSU’s request, is conducting an investigation.
Add to these an accreditation agency inquiry and an ongoing blizzard of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and the volume of compliance deadlines Michigan State University faces is daunting. Last week alone, we turned over data equivalent to some 45,000 pages of documents, emails, and other materials to William Forsyth, the independent special counsel who is heading the investigation for the Attorney General’s Office.
MSU is committed to cooperating with all official requests, and I’m grateful for the cooperation that faculty and staff have given the General Counsel’s office and the law firms that are assisting the university.
While the investigations are ongoing, activity in lawsuits representing well over 100 survivors continues to move forward. I’m following the progress closely as we work to return to mediation and, I fervently hope, a just resolution that helps the survivors bring some closure to this horrific chapter in their lives. Michigan State, too, needs to heal and to emerge a stronger institution, one where safety, respect, and civility are hallmarks.
That is not a new expectation. The University Policy on Relationship Violence & Sexual Misconduct states from the outset: “Michigan State University is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment for all students, faculty, and staff that is fair, humane, and responsible—an environment that supports career and educational advancement on the basis of job and academic performance…. Relationship violence, stalking, and sexual misconduct are not tolerated at Michigan State University.”
It is a privilege to call ourselves Spartans, one that carries a responsibility to adhere to standards of behavior, on campus and off, that should be well understood by all.
We know from Title IX reports that a large proportion of our sexual assaults happen on campus, that all too often those involved are familiar with each other, and that alcohol consumption is often involved. We can do better with our campus relationship climate, and I’ll continue reaching out to people and groups in the days ahead for advice and suggestions that can move us toward the kind of campus we all want to be associated with.
Finally, I viewed with great concern a recent ESPN report that gathered considerable national attention in no small part because it showed a promotional graphic of our head football and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar. This was a sensationalized package of reporting that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing. The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined. That has been a burden that must be lifted. I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.
It isn’t easy to live under a microscope. I’m proud of how so many members of the Spartan community have expressed concern for the survivors in so many ways. I’m pleased—but frankly not surprised—by the willingness of so many to commence the hard work of making real change in order to achieve an environment that truly is fair, humane, and responsible. To that I would add safe and civil.
I’m fully aware that there is a lot of work to do and not much time to do it. I appreciate your support as we together address the urgent tasks in front of us. Because this is how Spartans show their will.
Contact Chris Solari: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices