On Jan. 24, the infamous USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing 156 young athletes over the duration of his career.
“I just signed your death warrant,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said as she handed down her decision.
While Nassar’s conviction and sentencing were important in serving justice to his victims, there are many more adults that must be held responsible for these egregious crimes.
Most of the negative publicity has been directed at USA Gymnastics, and rightfully so. However, a report from Kim Kozlowski of the Detroit News said Michigan State was also compliant in covering up Nassar’s abuse. In her article, Kozlowski claimed that as many as 14 Michigan State employees were aware of the abuse, yet did nothing.
“Among the others who were aware of alleged abuse were athletic trainers, assistant coaches, a university police detective and an official who is now MSU’s assistant general counsel, according to university records and accounts of victims who spoke to The News,” Kozlowski wrote.
The institutional failure that occurred at Michigan State has had repercussions cut the highest levels, as university president Lou Anna Simon will reportedly resign. This is only the start for Michigan State, as many more people have questions left to be answered.
One of those trying to evoke justice is the NCAA, who announced it was launching a formal investigation into the university’s handling of the case. By drawing parallels to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, it is easy to see why many feel an NCAA investigation is appropriate. But, in the case of Penn State, the NCAA overstepped its jurisdiction as a governing body of collegiate athletics. In reality, the most powerful authority in the Nassar case is the law itself, meaning the state of Michigan should investigate its taxpayer-funded public university, not the NCAA.
At Penn State, the university investigated itself and published its findings in with the Freeh report. Although the NCAA had sufficient grounds to intervene in some capacity, it overstepped its boundaries by punishing players more than the institution. By using the Freeh report against the program, the NCAA issued a four-year postseason ban, five years of probation and vacated all of the programs’ wins from 1998 to 2011.
In reality, vacating wins does not serve any justice to victims, and only penalizes former players. The same logic can be applied to the program’s probation and loss of scholarships as well. How could the loss of a scholarship for a future student-athlete help an institution repair damages to sexually abused victims? Simply put, it does not effectively serve justice to victims.
As part of the NCAA’s ruling, the football program also forfeited its estimated $60 million in revenue from the next season, instead allocating the money toward an endowment for preventing child abuse. This was the only action the NCAA took that aimed to punish the institution rather than student-athletes.
Realistically, the NCAA was not in a position to effectively punish the institution and serve justice appropriately. The probation and postseason ban were rescinded less than two years later because of its ineffectiveness in actually repairing damages. The Attorney General of Pennsylvania was the authority who pursued a meaningful investigation of the university and Jerry Sandusky. The AG not only held Sandusky accountable but three administrators as well, including the president, who were all convicted last year.
There is no doubt that to hold itself accountable, Michigan State must conduct an internal review of how this abuse went unreported for so long. Since the NCAA used Penn State’s own investigation – the Freeh report – against it, it is unlikely for Michigan State to investigate itself. Instead, the investigation should be left to the Attorney General of Michigan, who holds greater jurisdiction on a case of this magnitude.
There is no doubt the adults who let Nassar’s abuse occur and continue at Michigan State must pay the price, but anything done by the NCAA would be minimal compared to a potential state-sanctioned investigation.
Andrew Lombardo is a journalism major from Middletown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.