By Dan Bernstein
At least the Penn State board of trustees knew they were in crisis. In East Lansing, they still think everything is just fine.
Shortly after the grand jury presentation laid out the facts of Jerry Sandusky’s indictment in November of 2011, with 52 charges of child molestation, the school placed one official involved on administrative leave, forced another into retirement, fired football coach Joe Paterno, then demanded the resignation of the president. Even if such moves were shamefully late and compelled by the disinfecting sunlight shone by law enforcement, local reporting and national attention, they were steps taken ostensibly to both protect and punish.
That’s not the case for those in charge of Michigan State, however, as 152 molestation victims of Dr. Larry Nassar have made their official statements ahead of his sentencing at the Ingham County Circuit Court, with more expected to be heard. A searing report by The Detroit News has chronicled how 14 representatives of MSU were told of Nassar’s crimes over two decades, as eight women reported his actions. University President Lou Anna Simon was among those notified, aware of both a Title IX complaint and a police report, while Nassar was continuing to attack students on her campus.
But instead of cleaning house and beginning the arduous process of removing all who failed to do everything in their power to keep their community safe, Michigan State is making every mistake imaginable.
The continued support for Simon has been over the top and unwavering from within, despite widespread demands for her immediate ouster. And while the student newspaper has called forcefully for her resignation, powerful voices have insulted Nassar’s victims by digging in on her side.
First it was men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo who stumped publicly for Simon, claiming that he has “the utmost — the utmost — faith and respect for the leadership of our president,” and that “I think I know what she stands for.” He also cast doubt on the validity of Nassar’s prosecution by adding “I hope the right person was convicted.” A firestorm then ensued in which the mother of victim Aly Raisman publicly excoriated Izzo for his insensitivity, and he has since been forced to offer clumsy attempts to walk back what he said so clearly.
Then it was trustee Joel Ferguson, who appeared on a Lansing radio show Monday to minimize the scandal as something relatively trivial. He said the board spent just 10 minutes of a five-hour meeting to reaffirm Simon’s standing, calling he “the best president we’ve ever had,” touting her record as a fundraiser by describing how she “hustled and got all those major donors to give money,” dismissing the current issue as “just this Nassar thing” and intimating that the victims would simply be compensated financially for their respective inconveniences.
It was horrific stuff from Ferguson, prompting two others on the board to attempt to mitigate some of the damage with their own statements on Tuesday, but it was already done.
Nothing can begin to be healed until Michigan State purges its ranks from the top, starting with the immediate demand from the board for Simon’s resignation or then her firing outright. Next is to scrape out the rest of the rot in athletics, medicine and administration, wherever it may be, and open up the school completely to any kind of governmental or independent investigations of their facilitation of Nassar.
The university is behind this now instead of out ahead of it, having failed to place itself squarely on the side of those victimized. Through its inability or lack of desire to respond properly over more than 20 years of allowing Nassar to use its facilities to commit violent crimes, and on into its continued failure to do the right things, even in this moment of reckoning, the school is proving that it is only concerned with its own defense.
Some courageous young women have been standing nose to nose with Larry Nassar, coming together to rail against a monster in an unprecedented show of force and fury that will resonate for years to come. They will not be silenced, not be stopped as their attacker finally is dragged off to die behind bars. These women are making sure we all hear, and all listen.
Meanwhile, just down the road, Michigan State University still doesn’t have the guts to confront itself.