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An ‘Outside the Lines’ Report Details Michigan State’s Mishandling of Sexual Assault and Violence Accusations

The report reveals how university officials engaged in a pattern of “denial, inaction, and information suppression”

Maryland v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

On Friday, an ESPN Outside the Lines report found widespread evidence that, for more than a decade, officials at Michigan State University engaged in “denial, inaction, and information suppression” when presented with accusations of sexual assault and violence against members of the men’s football and basketball teams. At least 16 Michigan State football players have been accused of sexual misconduct since head coach Mark Dantonio joined the program in 2007. Dantonio was said to be personally involved in handling discipline in at least one of the cases, though Dantonio denied any such involvement in a statement Friday evening. Several members of the school’s basketball program were also accused of sexual assault and violence in 2009 and 2010.

The accusations against members of the football team include a 2014 account of four players committing gang rape in 2007. After a months-long investigation, none of the players named were charged.

According to the ESPN report, a student said that in 2010, incoming basketball players Keith Appling and Adreian Payne cornered her in their dorm room and raped her. She told police that Appling removed her underwear, and that the two men took her to the ground and penetrated her vaginally, orally, and anally, during which time she repeatedly told them to stop. A police report obtained by Outside the Lines revealed that Payne told police he could “understand how she would feel that she was not free to leave.” Appling did not speak with the police, but told Outside the Lines that the interaction was consensual. No charges were filed, and an independent attorney’s Title IX investigation concluded that same year that no university policies were violated.

Outside the Lines also reported that head basketball coach Tom Izzo allowed Travis Walton, an undergraduate student-assistant coach, to continue working with the team after he was said to have punched a woman at a bar. A different student said that Walton sexually assaulted her a few months later.

The report comes at a time when Michigan State’s athletic department is under intense scrutiny. On Wednesday, former MSU and USA Gymnastics sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced up to 175 years in prison on seven charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Thursday, another Outside the Lines report detailed how the university did not notify federal officials that they were conducting dual Title IX and campus police investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct against Nassar in 2014. Michigan State permitted Nassar to continue practicing medicine while the criminal investigation was underway, and at least a dozen women and girls said he sexually abused them during this time. The same report stated that “MSU administrators still have not provided to federal officials all documents related to the Nassar allegations.”

The Lansing State Journal reported on Friday that Michigan State hid details of the 2014 Title IX report from a survivor who’d reported the abuse, including that patients were exposed to “unnecessary trauma based on the possibility of perceived inappropriate sexual misconduct.” The statement she received simply said that the investigation did not find that “the conduct was of a sexual nature,” and did not violate university policy. The first allegations against Nassar date back to 1997. He remained employed at the university until September 2016.

The report adds Michigan State to a growing list of universities that have been accused of covering up or hindering sexual assault investigations. In 2016, an independent report commissioned by Baylor University found that football coaches, with the help of school officials, hampered investigations into allegations of sexual assault by its players. Earlier that year, Florida State University settled with Erica Kinsman, who had filed a Title IX suit against the school saying the university had “violated federal law by refusing to investigate and by covering up her allegations of a sexual assault” in 2012 against then–FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. Kinsman received $950,000 in the settlement. And in 2017, a former female student at Notre Dame filed a lawsuit saying the university tried to cover up her accusations of sexual assault against a football player.

Dantonio read a statement to the press on Friday evening in which he expressed his sympathies for the survivors, but said that every incident reported in the Outside the Lines article was documented by the police or the Michigan State Title IX office. “Any accusations of my handling of any complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false,” Dantonio said. “I can assure you … I immediately reported [the sexual assault accusations] to the proper authorities. When I found out about a sexual assault, I reported it immediately.” In response to a question, he said that he learned of the accusations when told by the authorities.

Later on Friday, The Athletic reported that NCAA president Mark Emmert was sent a letter in November 2010 alerting him to accusations of sexual assault against Michigan State athletes. The letter said that in the two years prior, “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.” The NCAA formally opened an investigation into Michigan State’s management of sexual assault allegations against Nassar on Tuesday.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis resigned Friday morning, following the school’s president, Lou Anna Simon, who stepped down Wednesday. The university appointed board of trustees vice president and secretary Bill Beekman as acting president on Friday. Hollis was informed of the pending second Outside the Lines report at least a day before it was published. In a statement he read Friday, he was adamant that people shouldn’t “jump to any conclusions” about the timing of his resignation.

“I’m not running away from anything,” he said.

This piece was updated with additional information after publication.