Hannah Harshe: Larry Nassar, little brother?

Sunday, February 4, 2018 - 6:34pm

I am disgusted by the ways that students at the University of Michigan distort the concept of a rivalry.

On Saturday, ESPN released an investigative report claiming the pattern of “widespread denial, inaction and information suppression” of sexual assault allegations at Michigan State University extends far beyond the disturbing Larry Nassar case. The report suggests that MSU football coach Mark Dantonio and MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo may be complicit in this pattern. Upon hearing this, I was horrified and heartbroken — if we’ve learned anything in the past few months, it’s that sexual assault is more deeply embedded in our culture than we ever could’ve imagined. Every time another story is uncovered, I become absolutely nauseated.

I could not believe my eyes when the University meme pages, with thousands of followers used this opportunity to post about how pumped they were that, if Dantonio and Izzo were fired, the University would have a bigger chance of beating MSU in the upcoming seasons. This is a common narrative among students as well: “Ha, did you hear about MSU? Sucks to be a Sparty!”

I hate the Spartans as much as anybody. I was raised on Michigan football; every fiber in my being was taught that MSU is annoying, despicable and inferior to the University in every way. When we lost to them in football this year, I stormed home from the stadium in silence, tears in my eyes, my poor roommate afraid to say anything to me. When I arrived back home, I slammed the door to my room and got straight into bed without changing out of my rain-soaked clothes or taking the block ‘M’ sticker off of my face. I couldn’t fall asleep all night as Dantonio’s face danced through my mind, a sinister grin on his face, taunting me. If anyone understands the weight of rivalry, it’s me.

But sexual assault has nothing to do with this rivalry. Sexual assault is an entirely different playing field. Sexual assault is a wicked force that has, for innumerable time, permeated every aspect of our culture. It is a longstanding part of our entertainment industry and our political institutions. It makes sense for us to be disgusted, but probably not surprised, that it also plays a prominent role in sports.

We should not be using the implication of MSU’s athletic departments in sexual-misconduct suits as another opportunity to laugh and taunt them with the “little brother” cheer. We should support the victims, hope that there are no other scandals to uncover and look into our own athletic departments to ensure we’re not guilty of the same crimes.

Larry Nassar is a horrible human being, and he also happens to be one of the first major sexual assault perpetrators within college sports who is facing serious penalties. But I am not going to pretend for a minute that MSU is the only college in the United States that has a pattern of “widespread denial, inaction and information suppression” of sexual assault allegations. To anyone who says there is no way anything like this would happen at our University: Take a good hard look at yourself and tell me what leads you to believe this. Just because we like to call ourselves the “best university in the world,” are we somehow exempt from a disease that has infected all of Hollywood and Washington, D.C.? Sexual assault is a serious problem that relies on denial. Let’s not be quick to label it as MSU’s problem.

I am typically not one to say that a rivalry has gone too far — I speak of my hatred of for MSU throughout all of football and basketball season with no shame or hesitation. But when the rivalry extends beyond sports and begins to border on hoping that the other school is guilty of sexual assault, I draw the line. If we’re rooting to find out that Izzo is guilty of inaction regarding sexual assault allegations just so he will be fired and we will beat them in basketball, then that’s it. I’m out of this rivalry. I’m done.

Hannah Harshe can be reached at hharshe@umich.edu.