Maybe he wants to say more. Maybe his attorneys have advised him to stay silent. Maybe university administrators have asked him to stick to a specific script.
Whatever the situation, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is doing himself a disservice by continuing to not be more open and transparent about his handling of sexual assault allegations against several of his former players.
An ESPN “Outside The Lines” reporter asked Izzo a series of tough but fair questions on Sunday after Michigan State’s victory at Maryland. The first two pertained to Travis Walton, an ex-Michigan State player reportedly accused of raping a female Michigan State student in 2010 while serving as a student-assistant on Izzo’s staff.
Asked why Walton was still a part of the program at the time of the alleged rape even though he had been accused of punching a different female student in the face at a bar a few months earlier, Izzo sidestepped the question. He also insisted he doesn’t recall if the rape allegation was why Walton left the Michigan State program later in 2010.
“We’ll cooperate with any investigation and always have,” Izzo said. “We’ve done it before and we’ll do it moving forward. That’s about all I’m going to say about it.
“I’m not going to answer any questions that aren’t pertaining to basketball or things that I’m not going to talk about right now.”
The tense exchange ended with “Outside The Lines” reporter Tisha Thompson asking Izzo if he has any regrets about how his program has handled sexual assault allegations in the past. Izzo again gave a similar non-answer, declining to address either the Walton incidents or his decision not to suspend former players Keith Appling and Adreian Payne after they were accused of raping a female student in Sept. 2010.
Said the Michigan State coach firmly, “I’ve cooperated with every investigation — every one. And I will continue to cooperate with every investigation — every one.”
— Josh Stirn (@Josh_Stirn) January 28, 2018
Michigan State first came under fire for its handling of sexual assault cases because of its role in the Larry Nassar scandal.
Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor also employed by Michigan State, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison on Wednesday for sexually abusing more than 150 girls under his care. Some of his victims alleged that Michigan State did not properly investigate complaints about him and could have done more to end his reign of terror sooner.
On Friday, following the resignations of Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis, Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio were thrown into the maelstrom. An “Outside The Lines” story attempted to tie Nassar’s atrocities to physical and sexual violence allegations against the Michigan State football and men’s basketball programs.
Izzo’s lack of candor about the allegations against him may be appropriate from a legal standpoint, but the downside is the damage it’s doing to his reputation.
Michigan State has an obligation to be honest and forthright about matters of campus safety like this. The Lansing community has a right to know if the university is burying information and prioritizing the success of its football and basketball programs over the safety of its female students.
When Izzo declines to answer questions about past sexual assault allegations, it makes it look like the program has something to hide.
If he’s comfortable with how Michigan State handled the incidents in question, he should explain why he feels that way. If he believes Michigan State made mistakes, why not be apologetic, compassionate and accountable while making it clear what he’ll do differently in the future?
A postgame news conference may not be the ideal time to address this topic with Izzo, but Michigan State has shut down all other requests for comment. The university could avoid putting its basketball coach in this position had it made Izzo available in a different setting or had a spokesman addressed the numerous unanswered questions.
One of the frustrating parts of Izzo not answering key questions is that he has a reputation for being honest and principled. There’s a good chance he can provide a reasonable explanation for his actions and decisions.
But Izzo will remain under fire until someone associated with Michigan State basketball adequately explains the program’s handling of allegations of sexual assault.
It’s disappointing that hasn’t happened yet.
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