Michigan State University, known for its leafy campus, years of basketball success and a heritage that goes back to Abraham Lincoln, is dealing with a different image these days: allegations of sexual assault by a sports doctor and a separate sexual assault complaint against three football players who have been evicted from campus housing.
Michigan State on Thursday announced a police investigation involving the players, whose names haven’t been released. At the same time, it suggested there might be problems with how members of the football staff responded after the complaint was made in January. One person has been suspended so far, and an outside law firm has been hired to focus solely on staff.
Even the marching band was hit with unflattering news this week. Michigan State said the longtime director was suspended for a week last year for sending inappropriate text messages to a female musician.
“When you see one incident, and it’s isolated, it’s much easier to get a handle. But to be now piling up like this, it’s very troubling,” said John Truscott, an alumnus and public relations strategist in Lansing. “From a PR perspective, this is a classic crisis management case made worse by more negative information emerging.”
Truscott said he personally knows President Lou Anna Simon and Athletic Director Mark Hollis and insists “they will not sweep things under the rug.”
With 39,000 undergraduates, Michigan State is the state’s largest university. It opened as an agricultural college and is considered to be the model for an 1862 law that set aside land for public colleges. Today, it’s probably best known, nationally, for its sports programs, especially Hall of Fame basketball coach Tom Izzo, who has led the men’s team to 19 NCAA tournaments.
The string of scandals began last September, when Michigan State fired Dr. Larry Nassar, who treated female athletes in the region for years and was affiliated with Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. Nassar is being sued by more than two dozen women and girls who say they were molested during treatments, some as far back as the late 1990s.
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