Izzo Has Not Addressed Sexual Assault Allegations Properly. He Needs To.

Izzo Has Not Addressed Sexual Assault Allegations Properly. He Needs To.

Columnists

Izzo Has Not Addressed Sexual Assault Allegations Properly. He Needs To.

It’s time for Tom Izzo to stand before the Spartan community and discuss the way he and his program have handled sexual assault allegations.

Contact @crowleysullivan

We’ve moved on from the disappointing end to the 2017-2018 Spartan basketball season.

We’re looking ahead to brighter days.

Spring Football is in full swing and we’ll take some good, hard looks at what’s in store for Mark Dantonio’s program and how he’ll follow up on last season’s sensational 10-3 rebound from the mess that was 2016.

But part of looking ahead means addressing issues related to the basketball program that stem from the let’s-not-look-over-there dynamics of how the Spartan athletic department is moving forward from the pain of Larry Nassar’s heinous crimes committed over a twenty year period on the campus of Michigan State.

On the day of the much-debated ESPN “Outside The Lines” story that introduced questions about the overall culture at Michigan State and how its two primary and front-facing leaders – Dantonio and Tom Izzo – have handled alleged sexual assaults within their own programs, Dantonio stood at a podium and immediately, forcefully, and credibly addressed the report.

He denied any and all insinuations levied in the report that suggested he did not follow the proper protocols.

A year ago, of course, Dantonio was embroiled in a tumultuous mess revolving around sexual assault allegations within his program.

Prior to any of the players alleged to have perpetrated the sexual assaults being criminally charged with anything, Dantonio suspended them from his program.

The message was clear: there was enough smoke for him to make a decision that was motivated by protecting the integrity of what he’s built at Michigan State.

The players themselves were not bit-part players, it should be noted.

They were members of a “Dream Team” recruiting class that was recognized as one of Dantonio’s finest classes and they represented the way the program was capitalizing on its success.

Once Dantonio and the program had fought its way through much of the process, Dantonio held a transparent, informative, and important press conference where he addressed issues, answered questions, spoke from the heart, and led.

With those players on Dantonio’s roster, the Spartans struggled through the program’s worst season since 1982 and posted a final record of 3-9.

Without those players on the roster, Dantonio restored order and reestablished his program as one of the strongest programs in the nation with a 10-3 season and a convincing win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.

He also gave everyone legitimate reason to think that the 2018 Spartans can fight for another Big Ten Championship and another berth in the College Football Playoff.

And he’s made it as clear as possible that he has rid the program of whatever negative elements were brought in and that he’s returned to the fundamental foundation from which he built the program into what it is today.

Most early Top 25 rankings have Michigan State in or around the nation’s Top 10.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2018/01/09/projecting-top-25-college-football-teams-2018/1011303001/

https://athlonsports.com/college-football/early-college-football-top-25-2018

https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/01/09/early-top-25-rankings-polls-georgia-alabama-clemson

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2757894-college-football-preseason-top-25-ranking-post-2018-national-signing-day

http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/21902794/alabama-crimson-tide-georgia-bulldogs-lead-way-too-early-2018-top-25

The 2016 disaster seems like a hundred years ago.

The 10-3 season sure is the leading element to the disappearance of the 2016 mess.

But leadership from Dantonio is just as important.

Dantonio took bold steps, faced the music, spoke about what was certainly the most challenging period of his career, and handled everything with class, transparency, and humility.

In short, Spartans know they can be proud of Dantonio and his entire operation.

When some of us say that he’s earned our trust, this is why that’s true.

Credible, well-chronicled, and detailed information regarding incidents involving Travis Walton, Keith Appling, and Adreian Payne have, at the very least, given us reason to wonder about what happened, who did what, how the incidents were handled, and what Tom Izzo did from incident to incident.

Unlike Dantonio, Izzo still has not addressed anything in detail related to anything reported on in the “Outside The Lines” story.

Does Izzo “owe” ESPN anything?

Of course not.

However, is it fair to ask if Izzo “owes” the Michigan State community some answers?

It’s not at all unfair to suggest that he does.

Izzo has said that he feels very comfortable with the way he’s handled incidents and allegations related to sexual assault.

But he has not addressed the overall issues in detail.

Izzo, on the same day that Dantonio stood at the podium and addressed and denied the allegations in the report said just a few hours later during his post game press conference following a home victory over Wisconsin, “As far as the reports, we will cooperate with any investigations, as we always have……..And that’s about all I have to say on that…I understand that you have a million questions – I’m probably not going to answer them…”

Rather than standing at a podium that isn’t a part of a post game press conference and speaking frankly and answering those important questions about the reports, Izzo has been defiant – and awkwardly so.

Even when asked if he’d refute the allegations in the report – as Dantonio did – Izzo has sidestepped fair questions and said he wasn’t going to address everything but that it could occur later: “I’ll hold judgment on that until I sit down look at everything, to be honest…”

His remarks in the immediate and subsequent aftermath of the report were uneven and have consistently included the notion that there would come a day when he’d address everything.

His focus, admirably, was on the survivors of Nassar’s crimes and his team’s efforts to continue its path through what certainly was a challenging season.

Just before the NCAA Tournament started, Izzo firmly and defiantly said his comments were only going to be about basketball and that he would not answer any non-basketball questions.

He was right – his team deserved the focus and the thwarting of distractions.

He was also right about the fact that his players had handled themselves beautifully and with class throughout the season in the way they dealt with questions they should not have had to have dealt with.

Izzo patted himself on the back for never closing the locker room.

But Izzo’s right, again, about something else – the players aren’t the ones who should need to answer questions about how a basketball program handles a nationwide epidemic related to sexual assault.

That’s the job of the leader of the program – and it comes with the territory that also includes a salary that is robust.

And, unless I’ve missed a press conference or a sit-down interview with someone, Izzo still hasn’t really addressed the issues reported on by ESPN.

The cold, uncomfortable fact is that there are a lot of open-ended questions.

Just what did happen with Travis Walton?

Walton issued a statement of denial – and kudos to him for addressing things.

Nothing from Izzo other than some fumbling around about how he forgot why Walton left the program after he sat on Izzo’s bench as a member of the staff at the time of the alleged assault.

Just what did happen when Payne and Appling were called in to talk with Michigan State University police over the very first weekend of their freshman year to discuss a report that they were involved in a sexual assault incident in their dorm – a dorm they had not even fully moved into yet?

The Payne/Appling incident is particularly disconcerting.

Here, there are two incoming freshman – highly-touted recruits – who had not yet attended a class or laced up their shoes for a practice.  And they were wrapped up in something that called for them to talk with Michigan State University police.

We can debate whether the allegation was valid or credible – and the video of Payne’s interview is there for all to watch and listen to.

But the fact that something happened that called for these kids to be called in to talk with MSU police suggests that it’s fair to ask: how was this handled within the basketball program?

Payne, of course, went on to have a stellar career as a Spartan and, by all accounts, was a model student athlete.

After his own stellar career as a player for Izzo, Appling is now in prison after a string of problems following his graduation.

I’m not wondering if Payne and Appling were told to run sprints after practice.

What I am wondering, however, is –

Was there a discussion with these players and the entire team about how this sort of behavior only leads to problems for everyone?

Was there a message delivered to every member of the team that this sort of behavior – whether a law was broken or not – just isn’t the type of behavior that is tolerated within the program?

Were there other incidents such as this one that might not have been made public but illustrate the way there was a dialogue within the program about how sexual assault – and all gray areas that surround sexual assault – need to be considered and handled?

I suspect that the answers to each of these questions is a firm, “Yes.”

But right now we just don’t know.

I’m not naive.

I know full well that there are all kinds of dynamics that contribute to a very confusing and sometimes toxic environment on college campuses.

I went to college.

At Michigan State.

I know what happens.

But did someone within the basketball program simply say, “Oh – these two guys were called in but it doesn’t seem as if they’re going to be charged with anything.  Let’s make sure their lockers are ready for practice…”?

And, nobody has asked these questions.

Nobody has been given the forum to ask these questions.

As Izzo was lamenting the way he’s had to deal with all of the challenges of the season in the immediate aftermath of the loss to Syracuse, he said, “I’ve taken too many bullets…..I’m not going anywhere….”

Let’s ignore for a moment that his choice of metaphors here is, as is often the case, just plain bad.

How about we find another way to characterize the challenges rather than a reference to “taking bullets” since we have school children that die on practically a weekly basis due to gunmen unloading bullets all over classrooms and cafeterias?

How about rather than focusing on the “bullets” that have been taken, Izzo stands up in front of the Michigan State community and, once and for all, truly addresses the issues that just haven’t been addressed?

Wouldn’t everyone – including Izzo – feel better about everything if that took place?

It’s one thing to lead a program to seven Final Fours, win eight Big Ten Championships, win a National Championship, and help guide countless kids in great ways over a 23-year period as the head coach.

But it’s another thing entirely to stand up at a podium and face the real music, answer the toughest of the tough questions, and give the community that has supported you in ways that it appears from time to time you don’t recognize the answers to questions about the integrity of the program you lead.

Failing to handle the 2-3 matchup zone?  We can all live with that.

Failing to really and truly face the music?  I’ll speak for myself – I can live with it, but I’d rather not.

Latest

More SpartansWire
Home