On Tuesday, Michigan State trustee Joel Ferguson decided it would be a good idea to go on a Lansing sports radio show and discuss the Larry Nassar case. It included cringeworthy quotes, misplaced laughter and a position of arrogance that defined tone-deafness. All of this as across town, a parade of over 150 women continued to provide impact statement at the Ingham County sentencing hearing of Nassar on a felony-sexual assault conviction.
Ferguson noted that at a previously unscheduled meeting last week, the Board of Trustees spent only “10 minutes” discussing the Nassar case and its continued support for MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon.
Why so little time?
“[Because] there’s so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing,” Ferguson told “Staudt on Sports.”
This Nassar thing?
To recap: “This Nassar thing” is that Larry Nassar worked as a doctor at Michigan State for decades and has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his patients, a number that could reach between 200-300 girls, many of them mid-Michigan area gymnasts.
“This Nassar thing” also includes Michigan State ignoring, downplaying, discouraging or completely botching complaints about Nassar dating back to 1997, when a then-16-year-old Larissa Boyce said she first complained about Nassar to Spartan gymnastics coach Kathy Klages.
“This Nassar thing” continues through a 2014 MSU Title IX review that cleared Nassar of wrongdoing, probably because the Title IX “investigator” in the case, a lawyer from the school’s general counsel office, lacked the expertise to catch a master manipulator involved in widespread criminal conduct. The FBI would have been the better option.
“This Nassar thing” features Dr. William Strampel, the dean of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar’s boss, placing restrictions on Nassar, which by itself is an admission of some kind of misconduct. The sanctions included requiring a nurse to be in the room anytime Nassar used procedures on “sensitive areas” and requiring Nassar wear gloves, among other things.
“This Nassar thing,” however, didn’t include Strampel ever following up on these restrictions, such as telling the nurses in the office that Nassar couldn’t be alone with patients.
“This Nassar thing” saw Strampel let Nassar work on the honor code, which, quite predictably, he didn’t follow. No patients or parents were ever informed.
“This Nassar thing” didn’t include MSU relaying any concerns with USA Gymnastics, where Nassar worked as the women’s gymnastics national team doctor. In turn, USA Gymnastics never spoke to Michigan State, either.
That is the (very) abbreviated version of “this Nassar thing.” Perhaps Ferguson would know more about it if he took the time he carved out for radio interviews to find his way to Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom to hear firsthand about Nassar, the victim’s experiences and their criticisms of Michigan State.
You’d think that might be the kind of information a trustee of the school would be eager to gather.
Not this school apparently. After a public shaming for skipping the sentencing, Simon showed up in court for a few hours one afternoon but hasn’t returned. She then told victims such as Boyce, who specifically asked her to return, that she couldn’t fit it in her schedule. Likewise, only a couple trustees have made brief appearances.
Ferguson noted he is supportive of Simon because she has done a good job running the university and is a tremendous fundraiser. It’s each trustee’s prerogative whether or not to support Simon at this point. It’s fair to point to her track record if they do.
Ferguson, however, could have explained it a heck of a lot better than how he did.
“I mean, when you go to the basketball game, you walk into the new Breslin [Center], and the person who hustled and got all those major donors to give money was Lou Anna Simon,” Ferguson said.
That is an actual quote by an actual Michigan State trustee during Nassar’s actual sentencing hearing that features so many victims it will stretch at least seven damn days. None who have spoken thus far have mentioned their excitement in the opulence of the Spartans’ basketball arena.
Ferguson was also asked if he was concerned the NCAA might get involved, the way it did when it handed down significant penalties on the Penn State football program following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
He laughed. Seriously, he laughed.
“To do what?” Ferguson asked. “This is not Penn State. They were dealing with their football program. They’re smart enough to know they’re not competent to walk in here on this.”
Whether the NCAA should or shouldn’t get involved in this isn’t the issue. Somehow making this a football-gymnastics comparison, let alone mocking another organization’s investigative competence after your school failed to stop a predator for decades is beyond the pale. He’s not Joel on a cellphone calling in to sports talk radio. He’s a 30-year member of the Board of Trustees, its current vice chairman, of a school trying to convince the public it is taking “this Nassar thing” seriously.
“[Ferguson’s comments] show that he clearly cares more about a basketball arena than the women and girls Nassar abused,” victim Rachael Denhollander told the Lansing State Journal.
Because the Michigan Attorney General hasn’t yet conducted an investigation of Michigan State’s role in the scandal, we don’t know the university’s full culpability, criminal or otherwise.
In the Sandusky scandal, the Pennsylvania attorney general investigated both Penn State and Sandusky at the same time, laying out indictments of not just the former football assistant coach, but three administrators, including the school president. A spokesman for Michigan AG Bill Schuette said that couldn’t be done in this case because the office lacked the resources and lawyers to do so. Questions about why federal help wasn’t brought in went unanswered.
Michigan State requested an investigation last week from the AG, so perhaps finally more will be discovered. Or perhaps too much time has passed.
Either way, at this point a definitive conclusion on the school can’t be made.
What continues to be made clear, however, is State has shown no ability to handle the aftermath of the case. It’s a too-busy schedule one day. It’s a sports radio interview the next. It’s continued callousness that victims see as insult on top of injury.
“This Nassar thing” requires real leadership. Michigan State could desperately use some.
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