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Monson: Stopping sexual assault against women begins with an institutional change of attitude

Media swarm around Brian Breslin, chairman of the Michigan State board of trustees, after a special board of trustees meeting Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, on campus in East Lansing, Mich., where Bill Beekman was announced the acting president after former President Lou Anna Simon resigned over the school's handling of sexual abuse allegations against its disgraced former sports doctor, Larry Nassar. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

The phone call still haunts me.

It came after I wrote a column some 20 years ago suggesting that then-Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus stop his recruitment of a high school athlete who had pleaded guilty to a sexual assault charge, of forcing a 15-year-old female classmate to perform oral sex on him under a stairway.

Majerus ended the recruitment. But before he did, I received that nameless call after the column’s publication from a woman who said she disagreed with my position on the matter. She said the recruitment was OK, the player was talented. And then, she called me naive. She said, and I’ll never forget the words: “It was just a little forced oral sex. You don’t know? That’s just the way the world is.”

Damn it all to hell. Is it?

If it is, and based on the news of our day, maybe it was and remains so.

“Just a little forced oral sex.”

The world needs to change, man. The world needs to change now.

In our little sliver of it here on this page, the sports world needs to change.

Attitudes need to change. Institutions and the people who run them need to change. Perpetrators and predators need to be rooted out and punished. No longer can we enable men who somehow see themselves — and for good, but wrong reason — as privileged to commit sexual assault against girls and women, and to get away with it, to have it covered up or lessened by powerful people.

Isn’t everybody sickened and completely fed up with the failure of some universities and other organizations to properly handle cases of sexual assault committed by student-athletes or other individuals in positions of influence connected to amateur and college sports?

Sickened and fed up enough to scream and yell and protest and demand more prompt, more responsible action by those in authority who should be prompt and responsible in such cases? Enough to help kill the insular protect-the-institution-first attitudes about violence, sexual and otherwise, perpetrated by athletes or assistant coaches or team doctors or anybody else attached to the home team?

If the facts and scenes and victim statements from the trial of Larry Nassar, the convicted Michigan State and USA Gymnastics physician who sexually assaulted scores of young girls, some of them from the time they were 6 years old, haven’t alerted and moved mass numbers of people about the need to scream and shout and, more importantly, act to end such heinous behavior, what will?

Accommodation for perpetrators at USA Gymnastics, Penn State, Florida State, Baylor and Michigan State, and how many others — read or watch ESPN’s Outside The Lines report regarding sexual assaults at MSU — has to stop. The notion of reports of rape and other forms of sexual assault committed or allegedly committed by athletes at any school being handed over to and handled by that school’s football and basketball coaches or other athletics administrators must end.

The idea that athletes or other perpetrators inside a program should first and foremost be protected by layers of people in positions of institutional power is objectionable not only to victims and their families and anyone with a sense of justice, but to all those who have an authentic interest in the well-being of a school or a football team or a basketball team or a gymnastics team.

If Mark Dantonio or Tom Izzo or Joe Paterno or Mark Hollis or any university president gets wind of anyone in his or her program committing any kind of sexual assault, his immediate response should be to protect the victim, even the alleged victim, who has been hurt until the truth can be fully discovered. It should not be to automatically protect the football or basketball player, the assistant coach or the team doctor, the individuals who are helping win games and generate money for the program.

How dreamy or idealistic or far-fetched or naive is that?

FILE - In this March 28, 2017 file photo, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio speaks during an NCAA college football news conference at Spartan Stadium, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State will play a spring football game Saturday, April 1, 2017. The question is: Why? (Dale G Young/Detroit News via AP, File)

The whole culture of male-dominated sports needs to change, the power structure needs to change, the emphasis needs to change. If there are policies in place to protect victims of sexual assault, those policies have to be followed. If proper policies don’t exist, they need to be put in place. If there are lucrative sports programs operating in a cavalier manner, they must be reined in. If there are lucrative programs run by coaches whose priority is to protect athletes who have committed sexual assaults, those coaches should be fired, those programs severely penalized.

According to ESPN’s report, since Dantonio took over Michigan State’s football program in 2007, at least 16 MSU players have been accused of sexual assault.or violence against women. When he became aware of one of of the cases, a source told ESPN that Dantonio advised his player to go talk to his mother about what he had done.

Really?

Some of MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo’s players also have been involved in sexual assault cases, the report said. And Nassar worked at the school for years, victimizing so many female athletes.

Former Michigan State sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede, who left the school in frustration over the way cases were being treated, told Outside The Lines that a longtime flawed system has been in place, one in which coaches and athletics administrators handle sexual assault cases involving athletes.

She said: “Whatever protocol or policy was in place, whatever front-line staff might normally be involved in response or investigation, it all got kind of swept away and it was handled more by administration [and] athletic department officials. It was all happening behind closed doors.”

If so many mistakes, so much mismanagement happened at Michigan State, the same place where Nassar was empowered to abuse girls and women for years, it can and probably does happen at other schools. It certainly happened at Baylor.

Enough, then.

A new attitude, one with proper muscle behind it, at every school, in every department, in every organization, on every team, across the land must be installed. Abuse happens in many instances because of ignorance and entitlement, because perps believe they can commit such acts without consequence.

Like the phone caller, they think that’s the way the world is.

If it is, damn it all to hell, let’s change it.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.