STARTING FIVE: Weathering the MSU controversy as a Spartan fan

Carter Landis, Sports Editor

In one of the most demented and disgusting things in the sports world since Penn State and Jerry Sandusky, a recent ESPN Outside The Lines report found that the sexual assault culture at Michigan State goes far deeper than just the scandal regarding Olympic and former MSU gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

The report found sixteen different cases of sexual assault, or some form of assault, in both the football and the basketball programs, since 2009. It comes as a shock to many that this would happen under Tom Izzo, but is not as surprising under Mark Dantonio, as a detailed history of different assaults in his tenure are well documented. One of the most recent cases being the sexual assault in late January of 2017 when three Michigan State football players were kicked off the team. Star cornerback and wide receiver Donnie Corley, safety Demetric Vance, and defensive end Josh King were the players named in the incident. Vance and Corley have since enrolled at Coahoma Community College. One of the more shocking cases in the last few years under Dantonio was when an undisclosed player was accused of sexual assault and Dantonio’s only punishment for the player was making him talk to his mother about it, and nothing else.

As a lifetime fan and aspiring future Spartan,   I am incredibly conflicted. If the reports are true, and Dantonio and Izzo have been covering up multiple different sexual assault cases, then burn it all down. In fact, I’ll be the first one to pour the gas and light the match. If they’re guilty, they need to be held accountable, they need to be fired, and the systems that enabled them need to be gutted and rebuilt.   As unfortunate as it would be to lose two of the greatest coaches in their respective sports, it is completely unacceptable to prioritize winning in sports over doing the right thing in life.

There is another important question to be asked here, and that question also has me conflicted, but this time as an aspiring sports journalist. The stories included in the OTL report, most notably a story about former player Travis Walton punching a woman in a bar, were already things that had been previously reported and treated by the media in the moment just as “casually” as MSU is being perceived as treating them now.  I’m not saying that I condone what Walton did in the least, but what motive does ESPN have to bring it up again now? If it was truly about getting justice for the victims and holding the university accountable, wouldn’t ESPN have made that a priority when they first reported on it, not just jumped on the bandwagon now while the nation is already holding MSU over the flames over the Nassar scandal?

At the risk of discrediting a news organization that I wouldn’t mind working for someday, this makes the OTL piece feel more like a convenient witch hunt than a quest on the moral high road, and their subsequent reporting keeps confirming my instincts. They’ve since discussed how Travis Walton stole a bike in 2005, before he was even at Michigan State. The stack of pre-college misjudgements of players nationwide is probably a mile high and likely includes things that are much worse, but they will never come to light in the way Walton’s did until their university’s come under a microscope like MSU has. It’s not just me that’s calling for fair reporting. Multiple important sports figures, like Jay Bilas, have backed Izzo and Dantonio, claiming the investigation needs more facts. I stand behind the best moral judgement of whatever those facts are.

If the allegations are true, everyone needs to go. If they’re not true, ESPN needs to own up to their bad reporting. Either way, someone is in the wrong, and they need to own up to their wrongdoing before any more lives are senselessly damaged.