By: Eric Thomas
The smoke you saw coming from the Brendan Gibbons controversy has erupted into a full-blown conflagration. It was confirmed yesterday that the federal government is investigating the University of Michigan’s handling of a sexual assault allegation against Brendan Gibbons by a fellow student.
It was also announced MSU is facing a similar inquiry, although that investigation—as far as we know — isn’t involving a specific incident. That’s a big difference. At the time of this writing, we don’t know if those two investigations are related.
This is really, really bad for Michigan. They expelled Gibbons after his eligibility was spent and cited a “preponderance of evidence” in doing so, but no charges were ever filed against the former Michigan kicker. Is this because they withheld that evidence from local law enforcement? Is it because the victim didn’t press criminal charges? How did he play for years after the alleged incident? Why, when he was finally taken off the field, did Brady Hoke say it was because of family issues? It isn’t clear, because Michigan isn’t talking. When an organization isn’t talking, and then there is a federal investigation, the organization in question often hobbles away afterward.
Federal investigations are sweeping and large, and are often allowed amazing subpoena power. We will find out a lot in this investigation, and much of it will likely be embarrassing for the University. U of M is a huge business, and the people who hold office in Ann Arbor’s halls of power make immense amounts of money. Where there is money and power, corruption often coincides. This is reckless speculation, of course, but history isn’t on U of M’s side.
The response from some Michigan football fans on social media has been nauseating at best and chilling at worst, and have somehow taken on the same tone as the rivalry between the two schools. “HEY SPARTY, YOU’RE GETTING INVESTIGATED TOO,” crowed one person in a comment section, apparently ignoring that the students on the Michigan campus have also been protesting the school’s actions in the Gibbons case. There’s something stirring in Ann Arbor, and make no mistake: this has little to do with football.
This is about an institution that may have put their brand ahead of humanity. Money and power corrupts, and when they combine, often the humanity gets left far in the dust. Penn State learned that lesson a few years ago—could this be a similar situation?
As it turns out, the accuser isn’t going away quietly. At first blush, this looked a lot like a bad night between two people, which ended with a lack of charges filed. As this story continues to unfold, there seems to be a push for more questions. Was there something in the handling of the matter that made the accuser raise her hand again? There’s still the thorny question of how the Ann Arbor Daily obtained Gibbons’ expulsion papers. Is someone from inside the athletic department blowing the whistle?
College football has become huge business, and as the money poured in from dedicated cable channels, endowments and corporate sponsorships, the incentive to cover up controversy has become undeniable. When your cash cow is built on the backs of teenagers, you might need to have a contingency plan when they make poor decisions. Is that what the feds are looking into?
It’s all speculation, but if there was a cover up, we will find out about it. If there was a cover up, the question is what University officials felt needed to be covered up. This could get ugly. Buckle up.