April 16, 1972.
The day sits in my memory as much as the past week. A few minutes after 6 o’clock I came home after shooting basketball next door. I walked straight to the family room. It was actually a “sun room,” part of an architectural trend in the 1930s. Windows ran halfway down the wall along the front and side of the room to allow sunlight to fill the room. I can feel myself sliding across the terra cotta tiles still shined with a polish. I plopped down in my grandfather’s green leather chair, slipping on the slick synthetic surface. Before I could reach over to turn on the television, my mom walked in the room.
“Are you in for the night?”
“What …,” I stuttered. “I guess.”
My dad appeared in the doorway from the living room.
“We need to talk,” she said. “Dick’s been arrested.”
Dick and his brother were neighbors. Both were older than me, but I hung out with them. Dick never played basketball with me and his brother, but since he was 16, I rode along with him to the movies.
Two weeks earlier I’d found my sister’s body. I figured the culprit was some freak. Not my friend. In the weeks to come, I discovered that Dick had his faults. What Shakepeare scholars call the “tragic flaw.”
The memory of that day flowed back this weekend as the news came out that my alma mater has its own tragic flaws. Somehow a predator had lurked within the athletic department, victimizing hundreds of young women.
How this occurred is mind-boggling, and I hope that the root cause can be identified to help prevent such a travesty from reoccurring, whether at Michigan State or anywhere.
The ensuing rush to judgment against the entirety of MSU’s athletic department is difficult for me. As a lawyer, my goal is to find the facts and apply the legal standards. But social media lacks such patience, instead establishing competing groups shouting “all must go” and “fake news.” I suspect the facts lie somewhere in between.
I’ve always admired Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio, both for their coaching prowess and mentoring young people. Several years ago Coach Izzo dismissed his starting (and only) point guard for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Coach Dantonio excluded a player with deep family ties to the program from the Rose Bowl for violating team rules. And last spring he dismissed three returning starters in response to sexual assault charges. The thought that they need to resign in disgrace is overkill. Hopefully they will use their stature, leading by example to ensure transparency and change.
Friends seem hesitant to ask me about the situation. My mom, on the other hand, texted, “I hear Spartan t-shirts are on sale for half price.”
“It’s a tough time for Sparty Nation,” I replied.
“Yes, but win or lose, Ky Owen will stay in the stands until the end if the game.”
Indeed, I’m still a loyal alum of Michigan State University. I’m confident we’ll survive and be stronger as a result.
But for now, seeing what my university has done is hard.
Kind of like finding out that your friend is guilty of manslaughter.
April 16, 1972.