Coaches prattle on about the importance of putting their teams in position to win.
As is glaringly apparent from the report by independent law firm Husch Blackwell into LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints over several years, the university’s leadership did not put LSU in position to win.
The result: Losses. So many losses. For its students. For many of its employees. For the university’s reputation itself.
A muddled, confusing system for reporting Title IX issues was, Husch Blackwell lead counsel Scott Schneider said, “designed to put victims in a position where they gave up.”
What’s more, it led to a toxic culture at LSU.
A culture that apparently shielded former football coach Les Miles from consequences — even after his bosses told him to stop one-on-one contact with student workers, and he continued anyway. He was only fired for losing too many football games.
LSU has had an ingrained crisis of culture that let sexual misconduct problems go unpunished, or under-punished, for years. A crisis that runs from the LSU Systems building on the east side of the campus to the LSU football complex on the west side.
As LSU rolled out a law firm’s report Friday about a series of failures to properly report and investigate allegations of sexual misconduct an…
Friday, LSU made the first steps to changing that culture with the release of the Husch Blackwell report. There will, school officials say, be an expanded Title IX office, better procedures, more accountability.
“The most important thing, I think — and this is going to take time — is culture,” LSU interim President Thomas Galligan said. “The culture has to be: We do not accept domestic and sexual violence at LSU; that is not who we are. I love this institution, and I love it mostly because of its people. And we failed our people in this regard, so we have got to change the culture.”
Fine words — and to a degree, fine actions. As the old saying goes, it is never too late to do the right thing.
But LSU and its administrators do not deserve an overflowing cup of credit.
The main question here is whether LSU would have come to these conclusions, acknowledged these problems, created new positions, staffed up with people to handle new policies, had it not been for the initial USA Today investigation that was published in November?
The answer, most certainly, is no.
Perhaps LSU would have instituted these reforms one day. But look at the amount of prodding it took. How many victims of sexual misconduct at LSU suffered while the school fiddled? How many, as in Schneider’s words, just gave up?
The words of Caroline Schroeder, an LSU alumna who reported her sexual assault in 2018 and has publicly detailed her Title IX experiences at LSU, struck like a heavyweight boxer’s right cross:
“You are not here because of the goodness of your heart,” Schroeder told the LSU Board of Supervisors at the beginning of Friday’s board meeting, dominated by the Husch Blackwell report. “You are here because a national newspaper published a story.”
While Galligan inherited this mess (why he still wants to be LSU’s permanent president escapes me), it was his decision to suspend LSU assistant athletic directors Verge Ausberry 30 days without pay and Miriam Segar 21 days without pay.
Husch Blackwell said Ausberry seriously mishandled domestic abuse allegations against former LSU wide receiver Drake Davis, while saying Segar botched reports of sexual assault against former running back Derrius Guice.
As Board Chairman Robert Dampf put it, some will say LSU did too much, while some will say LSU didn’t do enough.
For many, here's the immediate reaction: It's not enough. In a few weeks, Ausberry and Segar will go right back to their high-paying jobs. Does that balance the scales?
And how different might LSU’s culture be had it properly handled allegations against Miles? Husch Blackwell stops short of saying Miles definitely engaged in misconduct. But it does say the university did not respond to the Miles allegations “in a manner consistent with then-existing legal guidance” and “best practices.”
The allegation that Miles “attempted to sexualize” the student workers in the football office after losing the 2012 BCS Championship Game also strikes hard. It sounds awful. It feels worse.
The biggest revelation to come out of all of this is that then-athletic director Joe Alleva wanted to fire Miles for cause in June 2013, saying so in an email contained in the report to then-LSU President F. King Alexander.
But Miles was still regarded as a mostly successful football coach at the time. When LSU’s legal counsel opined that Miles’ actions didn’t constitute sexual harassment and that the school would owe him a $15 million-plus buyout, Alleva could find no allies to help push the university’s most powerful employee out the door. This despite saying “The court of public opinion would favor us.”
The court of public opinion made Alleva a highly vilified figure by the time his tenure at LSU ended nearly two years ago in the midst of the still-ongoing NCAA investigation into men’s basketball. Alleva did himself few favors with fans and was never as popular as Miles.
Former LSU athletic director Joe Alleva recommended firing former head football coach Les Miles in 2013 because of "inappropriate behavior" th…
But more than many at LSU in the past few years, at least in this instance, Alleva attempted to do the right thing. And he proved painfully prophetic when in April 2013 he emailed then-Chancellor William Jenkins about Miles, saying:
“It gives me great concern for the future.”
Schneider said the chain of reporting Title IX issues has improved from Alleva’s tenure to current athletic director Scott Woodward. But that doesn’t let everyone in the current athletic department off the hook.
This entire sordid episode, this cultural quagmire at LSU, was borne of a misguided attempt to win, to succeed as a university by covering up its problems, or pretending they did not exist.
To their dismay, folks at LSU have learned you can’t win that way.
A great reckoning and rehabilitation is at hand. The school can emerge better for its troubles eventually. It can certainly become an institution that better serves and protects its people.
But it will have taken so many losses to get there.