By Shane Nicholson
Last week, as victim after victim stepped forward to detail how former Michigan State gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar had sexually abused them over 20 years, NCAA president Mark Emmert had some strong words to say far from any courtroom.
Well, Emmert sort of had strong words. At first, he said this:
“I don’t have enough information [on] the details of what transpired at the school right now,” he embarrassingly offered reporters at the NCAA convention. “That’s obviously something that the university itself is looking deeply into. You hear that testimony — it just breaks your heart when you look at it, but I can’t offer an opinion at this time. It’s clearly very, very disturbing, and I know the leadership there is equally shaken by it.”
Not enough information. No way of knowing. What could we do? I have no opinion. And just think of the poor poor MSU leadership. (Leadership that is, mercifully, being run out of the university.) As tone deaf as tone deaf gets.
A couple tries later, Emmert finally got around to, “It’s disgusting. It’s corrupt. It’s just wrong.” Sure. Good job.
But now, a new report by The Athletic shows that Emmert knew MSU had a history of covering for its programs when it came to sexual assaults, and he did nothing about it for more than seven years.
Nicole Auerbach reported Friday that, in 2010, Emmert was directly notified of at least 37 sexual assaults by MSU athletes over the course of two years. Kathy Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, provided to The Athletic a letter she sent to Emmert in 2010, when the NCAA president was just six months on the job.
From Auerbach’s report:
Here is the fourth paragraph of Redmond’s letter, which is dated November 17, 2010:
For example, despite recent reports of sexual violence involving two Michigan State University (MSU) basketball players, one of which admitted to raping the victim, neither man was charged criminally or even disciplined by the school. An earlier report of similar violence involving two other MSU basketball players also went un-redressed. In the past two years alone, 37 reports of sexual assault by MSU athletes have been reported, but not one disciplinary sanction was imposed by school officials against any of the men involved.
“Mark Emmert was brand new, and he’d initially said, ‘One sexual assault is one too many,’ ” Redmond told The Athletic on Friday. “As soon as I heard that, I thought I might have an ally.”
Redmond met with Emmert. She raised concerns over the MSU president who oversaw Nassar’s horrific crimes—and continued to defend her own inaction this week. The NCAA was going to really look at this Michigan State thing (which was well known before Redmond’s letter). And then nothing happened.
Of course, Emmert and the NCAA have since promised a strong and complete investigation of Nassar’s activities, now that courts are done, and the systemic failures that allowed him to prey on dozens of girls over two-decades at Michigan State. But then, the Penn State saga ultimately revealed how much power the NCAA truly has over its members in these situations, which is none. If it’s not a player trying to transfer schools or trying to make some side cash via a YouTube channel, the NCAA has no ax to wield. It’s not a regulatory body; it’s a money-making machine for big programs like MSU.
Justice has been slow to come for Nassar’s victims in East Lansing, Mich. and across the country. And Mark Emmert might have had a chance, once upon a time, to expedite that process. Multiple lawsuits had laid out Nassar’s pattern of abuse. Athletes had told MSU’s administration they had been molested during Nassar’s first years on the job. Justice could have come far sooner and saved hundreds of young women.
Had Emmert and his NCAA ever wanted to look at MSU, they might have stopped it. They could’ve kicked it over to law enforcement somewhere, anywhere. Instead, Emmert and his organization turned a blind eye to a depraved culture in an athletic program out of control. One that school administrators and trustees and the NCAA were more than happy to see continue for as long as the money kept coming in.
In a just world, Emmert would be fired and the NCAA burned to the ground. Sadly, justice is often slow to come—if it ever comes at all. R.