EAST LANSING – The ongoing investigation by ESPN’s Outside the Lines into sexual assault allegations at Michigan State led to a new development.
In a story published early Friday morning, ESPN reported a Michigan State basketball player has been under investigation for criminal sexual conduct since the fall semester. Citing sources, the report stated Ingham County prosecutors are reviewing the allegation and whether to file charges in what Michigan State University Police classified as fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Following a Michigan State Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning, interim president John Engler was highly critical of the report.
“There was a leaked report that ESPN reported on,” Engler said, “but I think, unfortunately like their other reporting, it’s incomplete.”
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ESPN’s story was based on sources and not a police report. It states that a female student in August accused the basketball player of groping her without her permission and police submitted findings to the prosecutor’s office on Dec. 13. ESPN named the player but MLive.com is not because he has not been charged with a crime.
“The sad thing is, I think we should, probably as a Michigan State community, apologize to this young man and his family who has been named without, at least in that report, any evidence of any wrongdoing,” Engler said. “There was a report of allegations, but let’s say, at the end of the day, there’s nothing there. Where does he go? A lot of people now have read this and (could say) ‘What went on with you?’ His name should not have been public because … the investigation might still be going on.”
The basketball player named in the report has not appeared in a game this season but has practiced and warmed up for games. The player is still enrolled at Michigan State and on the team. Asked about a student-athlete remaining a member of a team while facing an allegation of criminal sexual conduct, Michigan State interim athletic director Bill Beekman said “I haven’t read the story. I think ESPN’s reporting is interesting and can speak for itself. They need to stand on their own two feet.”
Engler said privacy laws prevent him from discussing any details he could know about the allegation. And then he took another shot at ESPN.
“That’s one of the difficulties in dealing with this,” he said. “A reporter can take something that’s leaked, put her spin on it, and run with it, especially from a news media that’s frankly struggling. That’s a great way to be sensationalistic.”
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Engler’s comments on Friday are part of an ongoing battle between Michigan State and ESPN’s Outside the Lines, led by investigative reporter Paula Lavigne. The network began investigating 10 universities for a 2014 story and sought police reports involving football and basketball players from the previous six years. Michigan State redacted the names of the players in university police reports, which ESPN challenged in court and won. When the company sent an additional records request in 2017, Michigan State sued ESPN to prevent releasing the information, but lost again in court.
Just a couple hours after Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis resigned on Jan. 26, ESPN published a report questioning how the university handled complaints of sexual assault, violence and gender discrimination. It tied in disgraced former university sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar, who is headed to prison for the rest of his life for sexually assaulting girls and women, and allegations that football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo mishandled sexual assault complaints against their players.
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Dantonio denied he ever individually handled a sexual assault complaint while Izzo said he always has and will cooperate with investigations. Dantonio on Friday had his rolling six-year contract extended by another year, which is scheduled to happen each January and now runs through 2024. Engler defended Dantonio as “one of the most honorable coaches” in the country and then slammed ESPN again amid the latest report.
“If a reporter has an agenda, and we’ve got one who does,” Engler said, “you can cherry pick your facts to write a fanciful tale and leave an impression, even if you read carefully, nothing is ever really said.”