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Michigan State finally calling for Larry Nassar investigation is a lame public-relations ploy

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

LANSING, Mich. — The board of trustees of Michigan State University has asked the Michigan attorney general’s office to conduct a “review” of the school and its involvement in the case of Larry Nassar, a serial child molester and former MSU doctor.

“Although we have confidence in the integrity of the various reviews already conducted by law enforcement, subject matter experts and outside counsel to the university, we are making this request because we believe your review may be needed to answer the public’s questions concerning MSU’s handling of the Nassar situation,” board president Brian Breslin and vice president Joel Ferguson wrote in a letter to the AG dated Friday.

That a thorough, independent, outside investigation by a resourced law enforcement agency is needed is without debate.

The question is why it took this long? Why did it take MSU to grant attorney general Bill Schuette permission to investigate it before it occurred? Why hadn’t this investigation been undertaken months, if not years ago in a case that initially broke in 2016? Why does MSU, in an obvious attempt at public-relations management, get to choose if and what it gets investigated?

At this point, it is extremely unlikely any of the frontline figures at Michigan State, from gymnastics coaches who were told of concerns dating back to the late 1990s to fellow doctors in the school of sports medicine who vouched for Nassar in recent years, will speak to anyone, let alone law enforcement. That opportunity is gone, which calls into question what kind of investigation can even be conducted at this point.

Schuette, who is running for governor, said Friday on WJR-AM radio in Detroit that his office focused first on convicting Nassar of sexual abuse. Out of respect for the victims, he said it wasn’t a matter of if a review would occur but a matter of “when.”

“We are going to answer the question: What the heck happened at MSU?” Schuette said on WJR. “But I’m not going to upstage the victims. A review, a report and recommendations will be made so this doesn’t happen again.”

Michigan State trustee Brian Breslin, second from right, addresses the board and onlookers at a board of trustees meeting. Listening at left is MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon. (AP)

That sentiment, however, ran counter to the wishes of the victims, who during Nassar’s lengthy sentencing hearing this week repeatedly voiced concern and expressed increased stress over the fear that MSU would not receive the proper focus it deserves. Many demanded accountability from both Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, where Nassar worked for years as the national team doctor. It has resulted in renewed cries for MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon to resign.

There is potentially far more to this than just Nassar’s criminal case. Since he reached a global plea agreement and is already serving 60 years on a federal child pornography conviction, this did not turn into a major criminal prosecution.

Certainly, there are enough resources for the AG’s office to extend the investigation beyond Nassar and into those who may have known about his actions, should have known about them or at least employed and provided him credibility. A Detroit News investigation showed at least 14 different MSU staffers were told or knew of complaints against Nassar dating back to 1997. Why provide everyone involved time to plan their defense?

As a comparison, in the sexual molestation scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the attorney general for Pennsylvania investigated the school from the outset. That led to three administrators, president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, all being criminally charged at the same time as Sandusky. Eventually, all three men, on the strength of emails recovered by the attorney general, were convicted and sentenced to jail.

At MSU, there has been no such investigation, even as the horror and expanse of Nassar’s reign of terror continued.

For inexplicable reasons, Schuette’s office sat on the sideline when it came to MSU. Now it’s the school, of all places, requesting it get to work.

Whether MSU holds any criminal culpability is unknown. Without a real investigation, though, the question remains. The school has conducted internal reviews but from the outside they look purposefully weak. In one, no written notes were ever taken, an obvious attempt to avoid freedom of information requests from the public and media, or subpoena from civil attorneys.

At Nassar’s sentencing hearing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has allowed any and all of his victims to speak.

Simon, the school’s longtime president, at first couldn’t be troubled to attend, only to then succumb to the backlash and sat in for a couple hours on Tuesday. She hasn’t been back, even as the number of victims seeking to speak has grown from 88 to 120, meaning the once four-day hearing will now go perhaps six and extend into next week.

The tales have been heart-wrenching and painful, yet proud and powerful. Even Michigan State heard them. “[Questions] grew louder this week with the victim impact statements being given in Ingham County Court,” the letter from Breslin and Ferguson stated.

You could say the school has been shamed into action, but this is about protection. The public-relations toll has proven so great, even MSU buckled.

It is now asking for an attorney general-led investigation that should have already taken place.

Why Bill Schuette gave the school that courtesy remains the question.