Michigan State thinks the answer to another public sexual misconduct scandal is more Mark Dantonio

Michigan State thinks the answer to another public sexual misconduct scandal is more Mark Dantonio

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In February 2020, Mark Dantonio — by far the most successful football coach in Michigan State’s history — retired. The stress of managing 120 student-athletes every year wore on him, Dantonio said. He wanted to make his life less complicated, so he was stepping away from football and East Lansing.

Harder to ignore, though, were the reports that Dantonio had been dismissive of sexual misconduct allegations made against his players. An Outside the Lines investigation mere days before Dantonio’s retirement announcement reported that Dantonio has been less than diligent in handling allegations of sexual assault against his players, including making bewildering comments to the media about his history of handling such claims:

Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines. Even more, Dantonio was said to be involved in handling the discipline in at least one of the cases several years ago. As recently as June, Dantonio faced a crowd of reporters who were asking questions about four of his football players who had been accused of sexual assault. Six questions in, a reporter asked Dantonio how he had handled such allegations previously.

“This is new ground for us,” Dantonio answered. “We’ve been here 11 years — it has not happened previously.”

Worse, Dantonio’s handling of assault allegations against his players seemed to evidence someone with little to no understanding of the dynamics of sexual assault. OTL reported that, in one case where an MSU football player was accused of sexual assault, Dantonio had the player talk to his mother about what he had done.

It’s impossible to read Dantonio’s decision to retire as entirely divorced from the scrutiny MSU was going through at the time, largely as a result of the administration’s handling of the Larry Nassar scandal. In fact, a little over a week before he announced his retirement, Dantonio decried the OTL report, saying that any reports that he had handled complaints of sexual assault individually were false that he would not be stepping down. What happened during that statement and Dantonio’s decision to retire just over a week later? It’s impossible to say, but it’s notable that media coverage of MSU’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations — and by extension, Dantonio’s — continued to ramp up during that time.

How then, is a coach who retired in the midst of a report about his alleged mishandling of sexual assault allegations the person MSU chooses to bring back in the wake of the suspension of head football coach Mel Tucker, following allegations of his sexual harassment? Late yesterday, following a USA Today report that Tucker had harassed sexual assault prevention advocate Brenda Tracy, MSU Athletic Director Alan Haller announced that Tucker would be suspended without pay, secondary coach Harlon Barnett would be the team’s interim coach, and Dantonio would serve as a special assistant.

If you had any doubt as to whether or not MSU “gets it” when it comes to the proper handling of Title IX complaints or transparency as a state institution, they don’t. Though Tracy filed her Title IX complaint against Tucker in December, the school took no identifiable action against Tucker until USA Today blew the lid off the story Saturday evening. The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reported that Haller told the media that “interim measures” were in place, but those “interim measures” seemed to be limited to Tucker not having contact with Tracy and Haller having “increased oversight of the program.” But unless MSU administrators were monitoring Tucker 24 hours a day, including while he was away from the university and his electronic communications, it’s hard to envision how any of that amounts to a sufficient response. The decision that the answer to yet another public sexual misconduct scandal at MSU is more Mark Dantonio is further proof that no one at MSU has any idea what they are doing when it comes to handling Title IX complaints.

Deadspin reached out to Michigan State Athletics and AD Alan Haller for comment. At the time of publication, we had not received a response.

MSU football fans will no doubt cheer Dantonio’s return to football at East Lansing, where he is still a beloved figure. But for those who are concerned about sexual violence against women and the university’s repeated failures in handling it, Dantonio’s return seems to mark an administration that keeps going in circles.



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.