Michigan State President John Engler Slams ESPN Over Its Sexual Assault History

AP Dave Eggert
AP Photo/Dave Eggert

Michigan State University President John Engler slammed ESPN over its ongoing issues with sexual harassment, after being confronted by a reporter about the troubles former US Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar brought to MSU.

On March 17, Engler was asked about the sexual assault controversies engulfing the school and in reply, the interim university chief turned the tables to focus on the sports cable network instead, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The former Republican Governor of the Wolverine State insisted that ESPN is “wrapped up” in its own sexual assault troubles.

“The 50,000 students on campus are going to class, and they want a safe environment. I think you have a safer environment today, and with the changes we are making, we’re making significant progress,” Engler said. “That’s very much to the good and that response to the larger national debate that ESPN is wrapped up in.

“Look at the sexual assaults you guys are dealing with as a company,” Engler added pointedly. “It’s pretty serious. In many ways, their company is one of the worst offenders in the nation. So we have a sexual assault challenge in America today. But for Michigan State, we’re dealing with it on our campus.”

Early in March a lawsuit was filed by former ESPN legal analyst Adrienne Lawrence who alleged that she was a victim of sexual harassment and that ESPN has a broken culture of harassment from top to bottom.

“ESPN is, and always has been, a company rife with misogyny,” Lawrence claimed in her lawsuit.

Engler was likely referring to this news, though he did not mention the lawsuit by name.

The school chief went on to defer a question about the school’s sexual assault issues saying, “Oh, I think ESPN is far worse than many companies in America today.”

When the reporter noted that his answer was a non-response to the question of the school’s issues, Engler continued:

I think Michigan State, like lots of universities, has many challenges. Michigan State alone had Nassar. He was not a doctor at any other campus. And so that is something that has caused us great pain and is a great challenge for us and the 225-250 women who filed litigation. That’s a very serious issue.

But when you talk about sexual assault on campus, Title IX cases, then that’s something we’re dealing with. And I think when we’re finished with the changes we’re making, we’re going to be very proud of the campus we’ve got, the security that we have and the record that we set.

Engler’s comments on Saturday were not the first time he has singled out ESPN for criticism.

The former politician also slammed ESPN during comments made on March 15 in front of a state senate education committee hearing. And Engler had sharp criticism for the cable sports network after a series of articles that took MSU to task for problems in Tom Izzo’s basketball program and Mark Dantonio’s football program.

“I viewed with great concern a recent ESPN report that gathered considerable national attention in no small part because it showed a promotional graphic of our head football and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar,” Engler said in an email to ESPN on February 13. “This was a sensationalized package of reporting that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing. The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined. That has been a burden that must be lifted. I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.


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