When his program was embroiled in the middle of the biggest story in sports last winter, Tom Izzo promised that he would talk when the time was right.
As Michigan State was in the crosshairs for their handling of Larry Nassar, a former team doctor for Michigan State and the USA Gymnastic teams that was convicted for being a serial child molester, Outside The Lines published an explosive piece that alleged Izzo and Michigan State’s football coach, Mark Dantonio, helped to cover up allegations of sexual assault against members of their programs.
Included in ESPN’s coverage of the story — which alleged that former Michigan State player Travis Walton assaulted a woman in a bar while a student assistant with the program, that Walton was later accused of sexually assaulting a different woman and that Keith Appling and Adreian Payne were arrested after being accused of sexual assault — was a graphic that pictured Izzo and Dantonio next to Nassar, who was sentenced to 175 years in prison for his crimes.
“That picture will go down as the worst thing that ever happened to Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio,” Izzo said at Big Ten media day. “That picture, which was completely uncalled for, had nothing to do with anything. I didn’t know the guy, didn’t deal with the guy.”
Izzo was grilled at every opportunity by members of the media for months after the story was published, and he repeatedly told reporters that he wished he could talk but that he was being told not to.
“I’m not apologizing for how I acted, how I treated people,” Izzo said. “I have the utmost confidence in myself that I’m not perfect, but nobody is. The thought that I was going to hide something like what happened makes me sick. The thought of that makes me sick.”
According to the OTL story, Walton punched a woman at a bar and was charged with a crime, but he was never prosecuted because he had presented witnesses that contradicted the story of the alleged victim; she told ESPN she was dissuaded from going to the press at the time. Izzo said at Big Ten media day that he was never made aware of this incident.
Izzo did acknowledge that he would likely handle the situation with Appling and Payne differently today. The two players were never prosecuted, and a Title IX investigation concluded they did not violate school policy; it’s important to note here that one of the allegations made in ESPN’s reporting was that the coaches had influence over the way that the school handled these allegations. The NCAA later determined Michigan State committed no violations.
“I think they’re up to the court of public opinion now,” he said. “Would things be handled differently? I’m a little bit bothered to say yes. Every kid would be suspended for everything that happened”
“I get some damn good kids and I believe in them,” he added, “and you know what? I’ve kicked kids out for drugs. I’ve kicked kids off for that academics. I’m not going to kick somebody off for sexual assault? That’s insulting.”