What Is the Role of Universities in Protecting Student Athletes?

“MSU is not able to say that ‘it’s just not my job’… under Title IX, there’s an obligation.”

Cheyna Roth/MPRN

Late last week the Michigan State University board of trustees gathered for an emergency meeting regarding the future of the school’s president Lou Anna K Simon. President Simon has been under scrutiny by a broad swath of the public for her handling of the sexual assault case of Larry Nassar and, perhaps even more pressingly, her handling of the fallout.

Over the weekend, one of the trustees at Michigan State said he no longer felt Simon could continue at the university with the groundswell of public anger. But the case of Larry Nassar is so egregious, and the victims so numerous over a 30 year period it’s hard not to wonder why no one at Michigan State has been fired for the negligence in employing a man who assaulted so many students.

“MSU is not able to say that ‘it’s just not my job’… under Title IX, there’s an obligation,” says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a Title IX attorney and advocate for women in sports. “In no way do I put any blame on the parents of the victims. They were just as institutionally betrayed as these victims were.”

“I really don’t understand the culture that is or was at Michigan State… I really am flabbergasted,” says Valorie Kondos Field, head coach of the UCLA women’s gymnastics team.

Field, or “Miss Val” as she’s called by her student-athletes, says a culture of mental and physical abuse in elite gymnastics circles are created at the top with the USA Gymnastics organization. She says that harsh culture has trickled down into parts of the world of NCAA collegiate gymnastics. She says a relentless pursuit of winning over all else is part of the problem.

“When sports has become a religion and that’s the most important thing, that’s when the athletes become pawns and robots and soldiers for your end goal. I do feel like that’s the bad side of sports at any level.”

Kondos Field recently wrote a blog post about dedicating her career at UCLA to combating the impact of abuse within the highest ranks of elite gymnastics. You can read it here.

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