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Michigan State needs to wear this shame

The university’s response from the time concerns were first raised about Larry Nassar until now has been consistently unacceptable

When I first started covering Michigan State football and basketball for the Detroit Free Press in the late 1990s, one of the ways I got to know people on my beat was by attending the football coach’s radio show, which was broadcast live every week at a local bar.

It was work, but it didn’t feel that way because I found a group of people to hang out with during and after the show. As a young beat writer, being there helped me build trust and a relationship with my sources, even though many of them remembered when I was a student reporter covering the athletic department for my college paper, The State News.

One of the people I got to know during those weekly outings was Kathie Klages, who at the time was MSU’s longtime gymnastics coach.

During the six years I covered MSU, Kathie and I hung out socially on many occasions. I always found her to be warm, caring and fun. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and within five minutes of meeting her, you could see why she had such a long and successful coaching career.

Today, Kathie finds her name mentioned among the many people who were reportedly told years ago that Larry Nassar, the team doctor for both MSU and USA Gymnastics, was sexually abusing young gymnasts.

If you’re expecting this to be a column where I vouch for Kathie, or double down on my deep affection for Michigan State, play the what-about game or wax poetic about feeling embarrassed and disappointed as an alum because MSU is being rightly excoriated by local and national media, then you’d better stop reading this right now.

Michigan State needs to wear this shame. The university deserves this humiliation, derision, doubt, discomfort and every unkind word. We need to listen to every word from the victims and absorb all of their anger. They’ve dealt with this betrayal and violation of their trust for years. Michigan State only has to survive a few news cycles.

That’s the absolute minimum owed to the over 150 women who have accused Nassar of sexual abuse, and a paltry price to pay considering Michigan State was an enabler and incubator of a pedophile for 20 years.

Michigan State is getting off light compared to the outrage directed at Baylor and Penn State during and in the aftermath of their sexual abuse scandals.

The multitude of young women victimized by Nassar are left with a lifetime of unimaginable personal trauma. Having a monster violate them was bad enough, but because this is gymnastics and not big-time college football, and young women versus young boys, the public outrage hasn’t matched the magnitude of the atrocities committed.

The university’s response from the time concerns were first raised about Nassar until now has been consistently unacceptable, especially in light of a Detroit News investigation that found that over the course of Nassar’s 20 years at Michigan State, reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar reached at least 14 school representatives, with no fewer than eight women making allegations against Nassar.

When Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon was told in 2014 that a Title IX complaint was filed against an unnamed physician, who was Nassar, Simon did her job. Which was exactly the problem.

Simon did the bare minimum. She never followed up. She never asked any questions. She didn’t press for any details. She was ethically compliant, at least based off what we know now, but willingly ignorant. She is getting a pass for that, and she shouldn’t.

Not to mention, many of the athletic trainers and other key administrators named in the Detroit News investigative report are still drawing a paycheck from Michigan State.

That Nassar will die in prison is little comfort because the systems that allowed a monster like him to survive and thrive for so many years remains very much alive.

Until we accept the fact that predators go to school, church and work with us, coach our kids and date our daughters, the voices of abused girls and women will never regularly inspire courageous action on their behalf.

When protecting institutions, friendships, business partnerships and image become more important than protecting vulnerable people, you get what you deserve.

Only in this case, I can’t say that’s true.