NCAA president Mark Emmert was alerted to Michigan State sexual assault reports in 2010
Though the NCAA has announced its intention to open an investigation into Michigan State’s athletic department, it remains unclear what exactly the purview of the investigation would be.
And, more importantly, why it’s taken so long to get involved.
NCAA president Mark Emmert was specifically alerted in November 2010 — six months after he was hired as the organization's president — to 37 reports involving Michigan State athletes sexually assaulting women.
Kathy Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, provided The Athletic with a copy of the letter she sent to Emmert urging him to better protect women with new, stronger gender violence policy measures.
In the letter, which was sent after Redmond and Emmert met in person in Indianapolis to discuss the topic, she specifically highlighted concerns about Michigan State. Emmert was unavailable for comment to The Athletic on Friday afternoon.
Here is the fourth paragraph of Redmond’s letter, which is dated November 17, 2010:
For example, despite recent reports of sexual violence involving two Michigan State University (MSU) basketball players, one of which admitted to raping the victim, neither man was charged criminally or even disciplined by the school. An earlier report of similar violence involving two other MSU basketball players also went un-redressed. In the past two years alone, 37 reports of sexual assault by MSU athletes have been reported, but not one disciplinary sanction was imposed by school officials against any of the men involved.
“Mark Emmert was brand new, and he’d initially said, ‘One sexual assault is one too many,’ ” Redmond told The Athletic on Friday. “As soon as I heard that, I thought I might have an ally.”
That is what prompted Redmond to reach out in the first place. Emmert responded positively, welcoming her to Indianapolis for what would ultimately be a 90-minute meeting that she attended alongside Wendy Murphy, a nationally recognized legal expert on the topic. They spent that time pushing Emmert to make it clear that sexual violence will not be tolerated; they went through data and policy initiatives to back up their points. They wanted a written policy, guidelines, corrective actions, possible sanctions — any and all ways the NCAA could exert itself as a leader in the area.
At the meeting, Redmond said she specifically mentioned concerns about Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon — at the time a member of the Division I Board of Governors — and her university’s handling of the police report a woman filed accusing the two basketball players — Keith Appling and Adreian Payne — of sexual assault.
Ingham County prosecutors declined to press charges, though the victim said she was told by campus police at the time that it seemed like a strong case to pursue because of Payne’s interview with the police, which included Payne saying he could “understand how she would feel that she was not free to leave.” There were on-campus protests when it became clear that both athletes would remain in school and on the basketball team with no punishment from the school or athletic department.
Redmond said she also sent copies of her letter to the members of the Board of Governors, including Simon.
“What I really got from the experience with Mark Emmert was, that governing body governs him,” Redmond said. “He met with me, which was great and I appreciated that. But the governing board has an awful lot of power. … It’s a strange setup. You do kind of get the fox guarding the hen house mentality. You do feel like the NCAA doesn’t like to do investigations because they like their relationships (with university officials and conferences). I think Mark Emmert came in with the right tone but quickly realized, ‘There’s not a lot I can do here.’ ”
On Tuesday night, the NCAA sent Michigan State a letter of inquiry, formally opening an investigation into the university’s handling of Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor sentenced this week to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing girls and women over a period of decades.
Amid increasing calls for her firing, Simon resigned Wednesday night. Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis resigned Friday morning, hours before ESPN’s Outside the Linespublished an investigative report Fridayoutlining more than a dozen sexual assault cases involving members of the football and men’s basketball teams, including the Appling-Payne case, that went unpunished.
And now, the NCAA will enter the picture.
“What are they going to look at, exactly?” Redmond said. “We know they haven’t complied with federal law. They haven’t been helpful with investigations, we know that. … Mark Emmert, when he met with me, said the NCAA can’t be ‘state actors.’ So, what is the policy that he’s going for? Or is he looking to create a different one?”
Still, Redmond said she fully supports the NCAA getting involved at Michigan State now and, in particular, probing the welfare and safety of female athletes treated by Nassar. She hopes the NCAA can help and listen to others, even if it hasn’t listened to her policy ideas or her warnings in the past.
“They shouldn’t ignore the whistleblowers, or dismiss them,” Redmond said. “And they’ve done that.”
UPDATE: Emmert sent the following email to all university presidents in the NCAA governance structure on Saturday:
You may have seen a report in “The Athletic” and subsequently repeated in other news outlets yesterday evening that infers in the headline I was informed of widespread sexual assault at Michigan State University in 2010. The implication of the headline, which has also been widely repeated, is that I was informed of sexual assaults at MSU by a whistleblower and did nothing in response. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To be clear, Katherine Redmond, a sexual assault awareness advocate, sent a letter in November 2010 to a number of people including the Board of Governors (then called the Executive Committee). It is important to note that the letter was not addressed to me or any individual. Indeed, it refers to me in the third person. In it she expresses great concern over sexual assaults on campuses, particularly those involving athletes (a copy of the letter is attached). She referenced cases of alleged sexual assault at MSU as examples of the broader problem on many campuses. The MSU cases were widely reported in the press and already being investigated by law enforcement and university officials. Kathy did not imply that these were unreported cases or that she was acting as a whistleblower to report unknown information to the letter’s recipients. Quite the contrary, she accurately pointed to the public outcry surrounding these cases. Moreover, never in writing or in discussions did she or anyone else mention the heinous actions of Larry Nassar. As I often have said, even one act of sexual violence is too many. Yet, it is extremely important to know that in no way was I ever notified of Larry Nassar’s abhorrent acts. I only learned of his crimes when they were reported by the media in August 2016.
Far from ignoring Kathy’s letter, within one month of first hearing her concerns, I held a meeting with her and a legal expert she wanted to include, Wendy Murphy. I asked our General Counsel, Scott Bearby, to join me in what was a constructive conversation at the national office for an hour and a half. I took her concerns very seriously, found her thoughts and advice constructive, and subsequently asked her to join an upcoming event we were planning, the NCAA's first Violence Prevention Summit in April 2011. I communicated in writing to Kathy in early December (see letter attached). National office staff responsible for the NCAA’s educational programming also continued interacting with Kathy and invited her to participate in the Career in Sports Forum and student-athlete leadership development workshops.
Following the Violence Prevention Summit, I encouraged and financially supported the research and development of best practices that the Summit called for. This work led to our first Think Tank in 2012 and the 2014 publication of the Handbook on Addressing Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence. Additionally, with my encouragement, in 2014 the Board of Governors issued a Statement on Sexual ViolencePrevention and Complaint Resolution based on a unanimous vote. This is the first time the NCAA member schools have stated unambiguously their expectations around the handling of sexual violence on campuses. In 2016, we released the Sexual Violence Prevention Tool Kit which has now been widely praised in the higher education and assault prevention community. During this time, we also engaged with our national SAACs to begin work with the Obama Administration on the It’s On Us campaign, providing guidance and financial support for the creation of student-based efforts at assault prevention. This included recognizing the student projects by running their videos at our national championship events, a program we continue today. The NCAA was praised by the White House for this work.
Most recently, the Board of Governors created the Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence that now routinely reports to and brings recommendations to the Board for action. The Commission has developed the recently passed policy requiring annual sexual violence education for athletes, coaches and administrators with annual written verification from the president, athletic director and Title IX coordinator on every campus. Further, the Commission led the first ever Higher Education Think Tank on Sexual Violence involving 20 higher education organizations just last week. In short, a great deal has been done since 2010. I have attached a graphic that more fully addresses the comprehensive efforts by the NCAA in the area of sexual assault prevention.
Our work to prevent sexual assault on campuses has much further to go. There can be no room for this scourge anywhere in higher education. The assertion that I and the NCAA are not reporting crimes, however, is blatantly false. We cannot let stories of this kind deter us from our important work.