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NCAA Stays Silent on Nassar and Michigan State

by on January 22, 2018 5:00 AM


In slang, it’s called crickets. The sound of silence when a response is expected. Someone says or does something and the other person or people don’t react. There is a clear message in the non-response.

One might say what we are hearing from the NCAA in response to the Larry Nassar situation at Michigan State University are crickets. Silence in response to one of the biggest scandals in sports history.  

Nassar was an athletic trainer, physician and eventually director of sports medicine at Michigan State University. For years, he was also the doctor for the USA Women’s Olympic gymnastics team. Between 1997 and 2015, some young women and pre-teen girls reported to a variety of trainers, coaches and other staff – staff at Michigan State University – that Nassar was sexually assaulting them under the guise of treatment for issues such as pulled hamstrings and back issues. Rather than being protected and the crimes reported to authorities, many of the young women were shamed or ordered by their coaches to continue to see him for “treatment.” Over the course of the past several years, investigators looked into complaints lodged against both MSU and USA Gymnastics for not doing more to protect the young women under Nassar’s medical care. Complaints filed to USA Gymnastics triggered investigation from several agencies including the FBI. Nassar was eventually charged with child pornography crimes which led to his pleading guilty to sexually assaulting 10 young female former patients.  

At his sentencing hearing which started last week and will continue through this week, victims are bravely stepping forward to share their horrific stories. Empowered by the strength of those who have asked to speak at the trial, the number of women asking to testify has grown to more than 100.

From the NCAA, there has been no reaction. President Mark Emmert said he doesn’t have enough information.

Crickets. Silence from the governing agency for collegiate athletics about a scandal related to athletics at one of their member universities. The same organization that so eagerly stepped outside of its regulatory jurisdiction to sanction Penn State remains silent.

In statements about the incident and the university’s response, MSU president Lou Anna Simon has apologized but many in the MSU community want more than that. During the period that Nassar was under investigation, MSU allowed him to continue to treat patients. A report by the Detroit News suggests that at least 14 Michigan State University representatives, including the now retired gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, were told directly about Nassar’s abuse and did nothing. It has been reported that in 2014, the dean of the osteopathic program sent Nassar a letter instructing him to avoid “skin to skin” contact with his patients which many believe proves that he knew something was up.

The comparison between what happened here in Happy Valley and the mess at Michigan State University are obvious. Land grant university. Questions about who knew what and who did or didn’t do anything. Court cases and lawsuits. Lives forever changed by a monster.

The glaring difference is the reaction from the NCAA.   

Where is the threat of the NCAA death penalty? Where is the removal of the wins? Where is the Consent Decree and the accusations of a “lack of institutional control?” Where are the fines?  

Simon was on the NCAA’s executive committee when the Sandusky scandal broke. That means that at the same time she was participating in decisions related to sanctions against Penn State, Nassar was abusing young women on the Michigan State University campus.

As a Penn Stater, my heart breaks for yet another set of victims at the hands of a sexual predator. I empathize with the MSU community and the horror they are likely feeling knowing that their beloved university is now tainted with the stain of sexual abuse.

I’m also wondering how the same people in the same organization who were so outraged in 2011 can sit so quietly now.

We saw the NCAA give a pass to the University of North Carolina for fake classes and grades assigned for no academic work.  At Baylor, a football program that seemed to support a culture of rape and cover up and the NCAA throws up their hands. At MSU, a scandal that has impacted hundreds of women and the NCAA stays silent.  

Why do Penn State and other universities continue to tolerate the double standards at the National Collegiate Athletic Association?

Photo: NCAA President Mark Emmert


Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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