By: Will Burchfield
Tom Izzo breezed his way through the first 15 minutes of his press conference following Michigan State’s blowout win over Indiana on Friday night, answering basketball questions with ease, and then the air got heavy.
Does Izzo agree with Michigan State’s decision to stand by president Lou Anna Simon amid allegations the university — and Simon specifically — mishandled the case of sexual predator Larry Nassar?
Izzo paused and took a step back from the podium. He gathered himself, momentarily tightening his suit jacket, and then spoke for a while about the courage of the many victims who came forward this week and shared their horror stories in court. The truth hurt him as a man of Michigan State.
It crushed him as a father.
“In all honesty, Nassar permanently damaged and changed the lives of so many of those people. I feel like it’s changed the lives of all of us at Michigan State, in some way shape or form. As a father, that’s difficult to even fathom,” Izzo said.
These words were heartfelt. They were meaningful. But they weren’t sufficient in answering the question at hand, the question that mattered.
Simon, according to a Detroit News report, was one of at least 14 Michigan State representatives who had knowledge of Nassar’s sexual predation and effectively allowed it to continue until he was arrested in 2016. Many have called for her to be fired. Others have demanded that she resign.
But the university’s Board of Trustees cast a vote of confidence for Simon in a statement released Friday afternoon: “We continue to believe President Simon is the right leader for the university and she has our support.”
So — does Izzo agree?
“I have the utmost, the utmost faith and respect for the leadership of our president at Michigan State. That’s a women that’s dedicated over 40 years, and I’ve been here with her for 35. I think I know what she stands for,” Izzo said.
To those clamoring for a change of leadership at Michigan State, Izzo, a face of the university himself, would say this:
“There is no way I could waver on the support for my administration or my president in knowing the 35 years I’ve spent here, what she has done for this university, what she stood for. Not only athletics — it’s a small part of it — (but) for women’s groups, for different groups. I think she’s been a champion.
“I hope and pray that the survivors get through this, but I also hope that we take a serious look at what we’re doing.”
It’s unclear the extent to which Simon knew about Nassar, the former USA and MSU gymnastics doctor who molested the young girls he saw as patients. But the News reported she was part of a group of MSU staffers who “in some fashion were made aware of the girls’ complaints, but either did not act, or acted instead to protect Nassar.”
Simon, specifically, was briefed about a 2014 Title IX complaint against Nassar, but for nearly two more years allowed him to keep treating the patients referred to him by the MSU gymnastics program.
“I hope we do everything we can to make sure that this will never happen ever again not only at this institution, but any institution, to be honest with you,” Izzo said. “But it’s been a lot of sad days for me in a lot of ways.”
He paused again, this time for a long while. He looked down at the podium, his jaw tense, and then looked back up. Quietly he cleared his throat.
Izzo’s voice is always hoarse after games, but right now it had nothing to do with yelling. It had to do with despair and anguish, pride and protectiveness, and the broken beliefs of a university man and a father.
It had to do with healing.
“I’m going to try to do everything I can,” Izzo said, his voice steadying with each word, “to help the survivors and to help us grow from this, learn from it and move forward. That’s all I have to say.”