The Turmoil at Michigan State

Disclaimer: The goal of this article is not to provide answers, but rather to ask more questions about what happened, who was involved, and how to move forward. This article will be periodically updated as new information is discovered. Additionally, the following assumptions will be made:

  • All identified victims’ stories are to be believed. The entire reason we are suddenly talking about so many events this week that occurred over a long period of time is because these stories were not initially believed. The first step towards finding a solution is acknowledging that a problem exists. If the reader feels this assumption is unfair, stop reading now.
  • The situation is fluid and non-binary. New information is arriving every day which may change the direction of this story completely. Nothing is 100% true or 100% false; memories fade, people stumble over their words, and mistakes occur. None of these scenarios void anything; we are living exclusively in the gray area. If the reader feels this assumption is unfair, stop reading now.
  • Sources with an unknown or non-existent track record are dismissed as not credible. When collecting information, always consider the source. Have they been reliable in the past? Have you heard of them before they provided the current information? If the answer to either of these questions is ‘no’ then they are not yet a credible source and their information will be dismissed. If the reader feels this assumption is unfair, stop reading now.

What Happened

On Friday January 26th, ESPN’s Outside the Lines released their findings on a 3-year-long investigative report which suggests that Michigan State University has a long history of withholding information related to sexual assaults on their campus. Additionally, Outside the Lines aired video segments of this report on Sportscenter on Friday the 26th and E:60 on Sunday the 28th, both on ESPN. These came on the heels of Larry Nassar’s sentencing, which suggests that these two stories are closely related. In many ways they are related: The nature and location of the offenses are quite similar, however the people involved do not overlap as much as it might first appear. MSU’s now former president Lou Anna Simon resigned on Wednesday, the same day as Nassar was sentenced. This was a direct result of her failure to oversee and stop his actions as early as should have been reasonably expected of someone in her position of power. Mark Hollis resigned on Friday, a few hours before the OTL report was made public. This initially suggested that he was resigning due to Nassar’s mishandling, since it was not yet publicly known what was in the OTL report. However, Hollis previously claimed that he had no knowledge of what Nassar had been doing, and even went as far as to say he was unsure if he had ever met Nassar. It seemed a little odd that he would have distanced himself so much from Nassar initially only to later resign as a result of those actions, but it was generally accepted that that was the case. Further, OTL referenced attempted communication with Hollis two days before his resignation in their report:

Hollis resigned Friday, two days after Outside the Lines asked MSU spokesman Jason Cody and the university’s sports information department for interviews with multiple MSU administrators and athletic officials, including Hollis, Izzo and Dantonio. Outside the Lines told Cody of the main findings of its reporting for this story. 

It can be reasonably inferred that Jason Cody relayed this information to Hollis prior to Friday, and therefore Hollis had knowledge when he resigned that the public did not yet have. This does not ensure he resigned because of the OTL report, but it certainly casts some doubt over whether he resigned purely because of Nassar. Only Hollis can provide a definitive answer to this, and as of this writing he has not provided that information publicly.

Who Was Involved

The report makes reference to the following individuals who were previously or are currently affiliated with Michigan State by name:

  • Mark Hollis, former athletic director
  • Mark Dantonio, current head football coach
  • Tom Izzo, current head basketball coach
  • Travis Walton, former basketball player and staff member
  • Adreian Payne, former basketball player
  • Keith Appling, former basketball player
  • Keith Mumphery, former football player

Several other former players are referenced, though not by name. From the report:

Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines.

Walton’s name would come up in another allegation involving a female MSU student. He and two basketball players — who played for him in the NCAA tournament — were named in a sexual assault report made by the woman and her parents to the athletic department, according to a university document obtained by Outside the Lines.

It is assumed that Mumphery is included in the “at least 16 MSU football players” count, and that Payne and Appling are not the same “two basketball players” which went unnamed. This brings the total to 5 basketball players (Walton, Appling, Payne, 2 unnamed) and at least 16 football players (Mumphery and at least 15 unnamed).

Neither Dantonio or Izzo committed any of the alleged assaults; their names are included because players on their teams were alleged to commit these assaults and it is unclear whether their players’ actions faced appropriate consequences.

Why it Matters

Aside from the obvious answer that it is important to seek justice for victims of these assaults, this particular report has become a lightning rod of conversation because of the coach’s names referenced in the report. The report implies that the coaches should have known what was happening with their players and did not take appropriate action to discipline their players and/or notify the appropriate authorities in all instances. The presumed fallout of admission of guilt would at the very least include a resignation of their roles as coaches, which is the biggest point of contention in all of this. The biggest question remaining is: Should the coaches be held as accountable for overseeing these incidents as former president Simon and former athletic director Hollis? In other words, should the coaches resign?

How should this be handled?

It depends who you ask. There is no consensus, only anecdotal observation of opinions. Based on my observations, there are 3 different opinions, and it is impossible to quantify which groups have the most and least support so I will not attempt a guess. The opinions are:

  • Group1: Both coaches should not be implicated (retain their positions)
  • Group2: Both coaches should be implicated (resign their positions)
  • Group3: We do not yet have enough information to make a valid decision

Dantonio and Izzo have each publicly stated that they have no intentions of resigning/retiring at this time, which puts each of them in Group1. The OTL investigative reporter’s and the interviewed former sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede’s opinions appear to place them in Group2. The general public is disbursed throughout all 3 groups in an unknown distribution.

Since the assumption that the situation is fluid and non-binary has been made, I will go straight to the third opinion and seek to provide as much information as I can find. Please consider who the source is of each item before drawing any conclusions on the information provided. I have used my best judgment to not include any sources deemed to be not credible, but my judgment, like everyone’s, is not without flaws & biases.

The most important piece of information discovered so far is that Travis Walton lived in Tom Izzo’s basement the year after his eligibility as a player expired, while he was on Izzo’s staff. This from an article written last week:

http://www.limaohio.com/sports/281851/tom-izzos-coaching-dna-runs-deep-in-travis-walton

Note that this article was posted on January 23, 2018; 3 days before the OTL report was released. The byline of this article is as follows:

Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at bseggerson@lcchs.edu

Excerpt:

Walton took a shot at playing at the next level, joining the Detroit Piston’s summer league team, but was not offered a contract. Faced with a decision about what to do next, it was Coach Izzo who stepped in and made Travis an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I was nine hours short of graduation,” Walton says. “Coach Izzo encouraged me to return to MSU, work with him as a student assistant coach, and earn my degree.”

Walton moved into Izzo’s basement and spent the year completing his degree, learning the art of coaching and staying in shape by working out with the team. It was an easy transition for Travis. “I was always a big film guy, so spending hours watching tape came easy for me,” Walton says. “I began to see the game through a coach’s eyes,” he added. “The same mistakes I made that drove coach Izzo nuts when I was playing for him, were driving me nuts now.”

After earning his degree, Walton spent three years chasing his dream of playing professional basketball, joining clubs in Switzerland and Germany and playing for three different teams in the NBA D league. But when coach Izzo connected him with an opportunity to join the coaching staff for the Utah Stampede in the NBA’s D league, Walton jumped at the opportunity.

Two articles from 2010 referencing Walton’s living arrangements at the time (the 2nd link is inactive so I had to pull it from an archived site):

http://blog.mlive.com/its-just-sports/2010/02/ager.html

https://web.archive.org/web/20100130222410/http://noise.typepad.com/hey_joe/2010/01/good-night-johnboy.html

 

For context of Izzo’s response below, excerpt from the OTL report:

The letter Allswede wrote says Walton was fired. In an interview with Outside the Lines, Allswede says little action was taken in regard to the players, and the report stayed within the athletic department, not to be investigated by anyone who handled student conduct or judicial affairs issues.

It is also worth noting that Izzo didn’t acknowledge Walton’s living arrangements in his response to questions about Walton.

Article on Dantonio/Izzo/Hollis relationship

Excerpts from this article:

Hollis was still a year away from being promoted to athletic director when his boss assigned him the task of finding Michigan State’s next football coach during the fall of 2006. 

Despite the fact that Hollis was not yet the athletic director, he was the one who hired Mark Dantonio.

From bowl destinations to NCAA Tournament sites to the occasional getaways to Mackinac Island they plan together, the three families spend a lot of time outside of East Lansing with one another. Their kids didn’t have much choice in becoming friends.

The oldest, Kristen Dantonio and T.R. Hollis, graduated from Michigan State a year ago. Katy Hollis and Raquel Izzo, both juniors, are roommates. They share a place a couple miles from where their dads lived together 30 years earlier. Lauren Dantonio, also a junior, is a frequent guest.

The relationships between Dantonio, Izzo, and Hollis extend significantly beyond their professional relationship. Their families are all very close. This should be considered for context as this story moves forward. Specifically, it demonstrates just how close Hollis is to both coaches. It is fair to assume that anything Hollis knows that is pertinent to either coaches is information that has been shared between them, and vice-versa. This is in contrast to Hollis’ description of his relationship with Nassar, whom he barely knew. The hypothesis drawn here is that Hollis resigned because of what he knew about Izzo/Dantonio, not because of what he knew about Nassar.

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