NCAA's Emmert defends effort to address campus sexual assaults

NCAA's Emmert defends effort to address campus sexual assaults

Published Jan. 27, 2018 8:47 p.m. ET

A day after a report suggested the NCAA could have years ago looked into problems at Michigan State, President Mark Emmert said Saturday that sexual assault allegations against Spartans athletes in 2010 were "widely reported" and already being investigated by law enforcement and the school.

Emmert made the comments in an email to the NCAA Board of Governors and other university presidents. Spokeswoman Stacey Osburn provided Emmert's email to The Associated Press. It was in response to a request for comment about a report by The Athletic that cited a letter sent to NCAA leadership by the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes.

The coalition letter, dated Nov. 17, 2010, and also provided to the AP, detailed what the group described as a "growing epidemic" of sexual assaults by male athletes against women, and used "recent reports" of sexual violence involving two Michigan State basketball players as an example. The letter also referenced an "earlier report of similar violence" involving Michigan State basketball players and "37 reports of sexual assault by MSU athletes" that had been reported in the previous two years.

Michigan State's handling of sexual misconduct allegations has come under increasing scrutiny since former university sports doctor Larry Nassar was charged with assaulting scores of girls and young women for years . Nassar, who has been sentenced to decades in prison, also worked for USA Gymnastics, where some of the top gymnasts in the sport have accused him of molesting them.

Both school President Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis stepped down in the past week and Michigan State is facing investigations from the state attorney general as well as the NCAA. An ESPN report on Friday about the handling of sexual assault allegations against athletes put football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo under scrutiny as well.

Emmert noted he met with the coalition's Katherine Redmond and legal expert Wendy Murphy in November 2010. A letter sent by Emmert, dated Dec. 6 and addressed to Redmond and Parker, was also provided to AP. It detailed programs the NCAA was helping to implement on campuses to address sexual violence and student behavior, though it made no specific reference to Michigan State.

As for his role, Emmert told the NCAA board in his email: "The MSU cases were widely reported in the press and already being investigated by law enforcement and university officials. Kathy did not imply that these were unreported cases or that she was acting as a whistleblower to report unknown information to the letter's recipients."

Redmond said Saturday she never intended to act as a whistleblower, and she recalled the cases and numbers cited in the letter by the NCAVA were compiled from researching media reports.

Emmert made a point in his email that Redmond's letter made no mention of Nassar.

"As I often have said, even one act of sexual violence is too many. Yet, it is extremely important to know that in no way was I ever notified of Larry Nassar's abhorrent acts," Emmert wrote. "I only learned of his crimes when they were reported by the media in August 2016."

Redmond said the Nassar case is uncommon, but the goal of NCAVA is to encourage deeper NCAA involvement in a more common problem.

"With regard to athlete violence on a college campus, we see it constantly," Redmond said.

Emmert's email to the board laid out numerous steps the NCAA has taken to address sexual violence in recent years, including the 2014 publication of the Handbook on Addressing Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence.

"Our work to prevent sexual assault on campuses has much further to go," Emmert wrote to the board. "There can be no room for this scourge anywhere in higher education. The assertion that I and the NCAA are not reporting crimes, however, is blatantly false. We cannot let stories of this kind deter us from our important work."