Local Media does what University Officials won't.
By Bill Roth
If we’ve learned anything from Michigan State University’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against its disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar, it’s that while administrators and some leaders will continue to deny and discredit victims, the media’s role in uncovering these crimes is greater than ever.
In this case, it was the Indianapolis Star, that worked on this story for several years before Nassar was finally convicted and sentenced last week.
Similar to the Penn State and Baylor scandals, it was the work of reporters that finally got a sexual predator away from students, and proved that coaches and administrators covered-up wrongdoings in the name of a university’s image, on-field success, and the accompanying millions of dollars.
First from the journalism side: For many, what the Indy Star did is another example of tremendous investigative reporting that involves collegiate sports. Just like at Penn State and later at Baylor, it was unheralded reporters who worked hard to help save young people when coaches, administrators, and university leaders would not.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who initially heard the case against Nassar, and Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis, who later tried the case, both were effusive in their praise for the Indy Star and its stories that uncovered Nassar’s crimes, and eventually brought him to justice.
“You have done just a fabulous job here," Aquilina said to the reporters. "I do believe in the First Amendment, so I thank you all for being here because it's an important story for the survivors."
Povilaitis, the Assistant Attorney General said “It shouldn’t take investigative journalists to expose predators. But thank God we have these journalists, and that they exposed this truth and that they continue to cover this story.”
Second, from the cultural standpoint, the reaction of Michigan State students was nearly the exact opposite of what we saw from Penn State’s students six years ago.
Cries of "one, two, three, four, kick the board out the door" and "go green, go white, do what's right" rang through the streets of East Lansing on Friday night before the Spartan’s basketball game against Wisconsin. The students marched, just like at Penn State. But this time, they were calling for change in their school’s handing of sexual assault claims. Wearing teal in support of sexual assault survivors, students wore teal, instead of green and white t-shirts during the game.
Students were most critical of MSU Board Member Joel Ferguson who downplayed the scandal, defended the University’s President, and laughingly dismissed the possibility of an NCAA investigation. Within days, the president Lou Anna Simon and Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned. And the NCAA has indeed begun an investigation (pictured below.)
If you’re reading this, you likely love college sports. We all do. We enjoy the games, the rivalries, the tradition, and competition. And we understand the money involved now is greater than ever. We want to love our school and cheer for our teams. This other stuff is awkward, right? It’s hard to read.
We want to read and hear stories about our teams, and debate who should be in the NCAA Tournament, not how many millions of dollars our school will pay in settlement costs, or how many months our AD should spend in prison.
When coaches, administrators and governing boards cover-up a pedofile sexual predator (Penn State), alleged gang-rape by the football team of other student athletes (Baylor), and sexual assault of female student athletes by the team doctor (Michigan State) all because they want to keep winning, keep the alums happy, and keep the cash flowing, someone has to stop it.
To date, only the media has shown the fortitude to say “This is wrong.”
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