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Engler criticizes ESPN's 'sensationalized package,' Izzo agrees in part

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John Engler spoke in detail, albeit briefly, about athletics for the first time in his interim presidency at Michigan State in an open letter to the university community on Tuesday, and Spartan basketball coach Tom Izzo reacted favorably to it on Tuesday night.

After No. 2-ranked Michigan State’s 87-57 victory at Minnesota, Izzo was asked about Engler’s letter.

“I only saw a little bit of it but the part I saw, I agreed with what he said,” Izzo said.

In the latter portion of the 718-word letter, Engler turned his attention to athletics and the fact that he watched “with great concern a recent ESPN report … (which) showed a promotional graphic of our head football coach and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar. This was a sensationalized package that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing.”

Engler did not mention Izzo or Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio by name. But he acknowledged that Izzo and Dantonio, at some point, have been asked to avoid commenting on the ESPN report or other investigations, but indicated they will no longer be asked to remain silent.

“The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined,” Engler said in the letter. “That has been a burden that must be lifted.”

Izzo has been criticized for refraining from answering questions at three post-game press conferences since ESPN’s airing of an Outside The Lines report which raised accusations of mishandling of sexual assault cases by athletic department personnel.

Dantonio defended his handling of sexual assault allegations that were made against his players.

ESPN made public three cases - one in 2007, one in 2010 and one in 2013 - in which a total seven players were accused of rape or unconsentual sex. Dantonio did not become aware of the 2007 incident until seven years afterward, when police were notified of entries in a deceased female's journal. No charges were filed in any of the cases.

Dantonio vehemently stated that any time he was made aware of sexual assault allegations, he immediately alerted authorities.

“Any accusations of my handling of complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false,” Dantonio said on Jan. 26. “Every incident reported in that article was documented by the police or by the Title IX office. I’ve always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with the cases of sexual assault.”

The ESPN report also detailed the arrests of four players last year for sexual assault - Donnie Corley, Josh King, Demetric Vance and Auston Robertson - in two separate incidents. But ESPN failed to point out that Dantonio handed these cases over to MSU’s Title IX office quickly and correctly. Some have suggested that ESPN’s failure to report Dantonio’s correct and swift action as part of its attempted exposé brings the overall credibility and slant of ESPN’s work into question.

“I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches,” Engler said in the letter.

Izzo said he wanted more time to process Engler’s letter.

“We’ll see what goes from there when I get home and get a chance to read it all and get a chance to talk to him,” Izzo said. “But the part I saw, I agreed with him.”

As for Engler lifting the “burden” of silence from the coaches, Izzo said:

“Yeah, there has been a little burden. Until the investigations came it was more my decision.”

Izzo was speaking of the initial wave of investigations into the university’s handling the Larry Nassar crimes. Izzo was not asked by university administrators or counsel to avoid commenting on the Nassar crimes, or victim impact statements which earned worldwide attention last month.

“He (Engler) wasn’t even president then,” Izzo said.

When the ESPN report hit the airwaves, Izzo and Dantonio were advised to avoid commenting. Dantonio acknowledged on Jan. 26 that he had been “advised against taking any questions.”

“But that’s pretty common (to not speak of an open investigation),” Izzo said Tuesday night.

Izzo stuck to his recent stance that he would avoid answering questions on the matter at this time.

“I said it before, there will be a time that I talk but I thought what he (Engler) said looked really good to me, as a start,” Izzo said.

SpartanMag.com members seem to agree with Izzo. Of the 390 SpartanMag members who participated in a poll asking for their thoughts on Engler's letter, 99.5 percent of them (388-2) voted that they approved “of Engler’s letter to the Michigan State community regarding Michigan State coaches and ESPN.” Less than one percent voted that they disapproved of the letter.

The poll was conducted from 3 p.m. on Tuesday to 3 a.m. on Wednesday.

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Engler was named interim MSU president on Jan. 31.

Engler’s complete letter:

To the MSU campus community:

On this second day of my second week as interim president, I think it is important to address several matters many of you have raised with me.

Everyone knows the Nassar case is an international story. As he begins serving his sentence in a federal prison in Arizona, we are all still struggling to comprehend the extent of the damage he inflicted on so many girls and young women, and on their families.

Questions about how this could have happened and what must be done to prevent it from ever happening again are the subject of multiple inquiries. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education is conducting a Clery program review, the U.S. Senate has requested information, and the U.S. House of Representatives has two inquiries underway. The NCAA also is seeking information from us. In Michigan, the House of Representatives is requesting production of documents and the Attorney General’s Office, at MSU’s request, is conducting an investigation.

Add to these an accreditation agency inquiry and an ongoing blizzard of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and the volume of compliance deadlines Michigan State University faces is daunting. Last week alone, we turned over data equivalent to some 45,000 pages of documents, emails, and other materials to William Forsyth, the independent special counsel who is heading the investigation for the Attorney General’s Office.

MSU is committed to cooperating with all official requests, and I’m grateful for the cooperation that faculty and staff have given the General Counsel’s office and the law firms that are assisting the university.

While the investigations are ongoing, activity in lawsuits representing well over 100 survivors continues to move forward. I’m following the progress closely as we work to return to mediation and, I fervently hope, a just resolution that helps the survivors bring some closure to this horrific chapter in their lives. Michigan State, too, needs to heal and to emerge a stronger institution, one where safety, respect, and civility are hallmarks.

That is not a new expectation. The University Policy on Relationship Violence & Sexual Misconduct states from the outset: “Michigan State University is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment for all students, faculty, and staff that is fair, humane, and responsible—an environment that supports career and educational advancement on the basis of job and academic performance…. Relationship violence, stalking, and sexual misconduct are not tolerated at Michigan State University.”

It is a privilege to call ourselves Spartans, one that carries a responsibility to adhere to standards of behavior, on campus and off, that should be well understood by all.

We know from Title IX reports that a large proportion of our sexual assaults happen on campus, that all too often those involved are familiar with each other, and that alcohol consumption is often involved. We can do better with our campus relationship climate, and I’ll continue reaching out to people and groups in the days ahead for advice and suggestions that can move us toward the kind of campus we all want to be associated with.

Finally, I viewed with great concern a recent ESPN report that gathered considerable national attention in no small part because it showed a promotional graphic of our head football and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar. This was a sensationalized package of reporting that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing. The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined. That has been a burden that must be lifted. I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.

It isn’t easy to live under a microscope. I’m proud of how so many members of the Spartan community have expressed concern for the survivors in so many ways. I’m pleased—but frankly not surprised—by the willingness of so many to commence the hard work of making real change in order to achieve an environment that truly is fair, humane, and responsible. To that I would add safe and civil.

I’m fully aware that there is a lot of work to do and not much time to do it. I appreciate your support as we together address the urgent tasks in front of us. Because this is how Spartans show their will.

Sincerely,

John Engler

President