BY Micah Safsten
When Aly Raisman was competing in nation-wide gymnastics meets at the age of 15, she knew exactly how she wanted to make a name for herself. Raisman was quickly becoming one of the most talented gymnasts in the country, but was still in many ways, a normal 15 year-old girl. It was at this time in her life that Aly Raisman was subject to the unspeakable predations of Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor and osteopathic physician with Michigan State University. It would take nearly a decade for details regarding Nassar’s abuse of Raisman and hundreds of other women to come out last fall and into this year. Despite the abuse, Raisman made a name for herself just the way she planned. She competes today as one of the most decorated gymnasts in the country and was captain of the “Final Five” — the dominate USA Gymnastics team that competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Aly Raisman’s story and her dramatic testimony before the judge in Nassar’s hearing have catapulted both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University into the spotlight, as questions of culpability are asked of everyone involved. Michigan State administration has been under particular scrutiny, as revelations of the mishandling of sexual assault allegations, perpetrated by members of various sports teams, have plagued the athletic department. After a report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” alleged that the MSU athletic department had a history of covering up for athletes alleged to commit sexual assault, the University president and athletic director both stepped down.
Apart from this disturbing story— that is not yet finished being told— there are many similarities between Michigan State and Utah State. Michigan State University is located in East Lansing, Michigan and like Utah State, began primarily as an agricultural school. Each of them are the only designated land-grand universities in their respective states. Both Universities are situated in towns of near identical size that can both be described as “semi-rural”. Both schools have proud academic and athletic accomplishments, although MSU has enjoyed particular national prominence in athletics over the last decade.
Perhaps the most disturbing details of the ESPN report were not just the details of the alleged crimes, but the effort Michigan State University made to cover them up. In June 2015, “Outside the Lines” released a report in which it had requested the records of 10 university police departments associated with prominent football and men’s basketball programs between 2009 and 2014. These records were compared with the respective football and men’s basketball rosters to show how many players from each school were involved in criminal activities. Of the 10 universities for whom these requests were made, nine of them complied. Michigan State University was the one school that denied the request. ESPN had to sue Michigan State three times to be granted the information. When it was finally released to ESPN, the results were astounding. No less than 16 incidences of football players were reported to Michigan State administration, but were ultimately dealt with by the athletic department. The mishandling of a slew of sexual assault cases by the athletic department, along with an utter lack of transparency by the school administration, has made Michigan State the latest in a string of prominent athletic departments within major universities that have seriously mishandled cases of criminal sexual misconduct by coaches and players in the last decade.
The case of Jerry Sandusky and Pennsylvania State University in 2011 garnered national media attention for weeks on end and forced legendary coach Joe Paterno to retire, largely because of the implication that he knew about Sandusky’s crimes and failed to report them properly. In the spring of 2016, Baylor University came under intense scrutiny when it was discovered that the football program failed to respond to multiple instances of sexual assault and rape by it’s players. The head coach, Art Briles, was fired and the University president, Ken Starr (the same Ken Starr who lead the investigation against President Bill Clinton), was removed. Other recent incidents at the University of Minnesota and Florida State University show a disturbing trend of football and men’s basketball players and coaches having serious allegations of sexual misconduct, that are either sporadically responded to by school officials, or not responded to at all.
Serious malfeasance on behalf of Michigan State University administration hits home for me. Having grown up in Michigan, I have friends and family who are both students and alumni of that school. I know that they feel about their school much the same way we all feel for our school. This was clear when a group of students walked in on a meeting of the board of trustees at Michigan State. One student sat on the table while another spoke, suggesting that his degree was now going to be from “Larry Nassar University.” It’s clear that many students and alumni feel let down, as they know that this story does not describe the school they know, even if it’s true.
The similarities between Michigan State and Utah State should not at all be seen as an indictment of our beloved university, but as a reminder that these stories are happening at campuses not unlike ours. Next fall, our Aggies will kick off the 2018 football season in East Lansing, Michigan against none other than the Michigan State Spartans. It is hard to imagine what our opponents fan’s will be thinking and feeling, to say nothing of what the victims of these alleged crimes will be going through. Here’s hoping that when that game happens, and for a long time after, we can be proud to be a part of this great University.
Micah Safsten is a sophomore at USU, studying Law and Constitutional Studies. He hosts a political and social issue blog called StandforTruthBlog.com. He can also be found on Twitter @MicahSafsten.