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There’s trouble a-brewin’ at the University of Michigan. Big trouble. The kind of trouble that jumps out of the sports pages and onto the front page. The kind of trouble where last names become synonymous with the suffix “-gate.” The kind of trouble where even your mother brings it up at the dinner table, albeit with a grotesque butchering of the names of all parties involved.
While details are, at this point, still in the “things are hazy but one slip-up and we’ll sue your ass for libel” stage, here is what we do know for certain. The federal government’s Office for Civil Rights has begun investigating UM for its handling of sexual assault allegations surrounding former placekicker Brendan Gibbons. A sexual assault complaint was filed against Gibbons in November 2009, but no charges were pressed. Gibbons would go on to become a four-year starter, but he suddenly did not make the trip to the Wolverines’ bowl game in Tempe on December 22, 2013, for what Head Coach Brady Hoke called “family reasons.”
However, Hoke’s statement was inaccurate, and that’s where the red flags start. Three days prior, on December 19, Gibbons was expelled for violating the school’s student sexual misconduct policy. Also implicated in the fiasco is a certain first round draft pick, offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, who has been accused of intimidating the alleged victim.
Frankly, I’m shocked that it has taken this long for the news to get out. While we have no idea what happened, the phrase “Brendan Gibbons raped a girl” has been on social media for years now. Obviously, the public was at least somewhat aware of what may have happened; what people could have excused as gossip board fodder no longer can be labeled as such, now that the university has expelled Gibbons.
Whether the alleged events occurred or not, the fact that the school is being investigated more than four years later is astonishing. I guess when–and stop me if you’ve heard this before–an organization gets so powerful in the local community that it’s seemingly above the law, it’s naïve to be surprised that it took this long for even an investigation to unfold. Not a guilty verdict. Not restitution for the victim, or, conversely, clearing the name of the alleged innocent wrongdoer. No, simply an investigation: a sign that someone somewhere is doing something.
What can we expect moving forward?
First of all, we can bet the media will present this story as Penn State 2.0. That’s because in 2014, every single event must be neatly classified as analogous to another situation, even though they’re nothing alike in terms of scale or event accusations. That is how news headlines work; they demand familiarity, judgment, and, most importantly, the text must be click-worthy. To be fair, it’s also how the human brain is programmed: we try to reconcile the unknown with the known in order to make better sense of it.
We can expect people will rush to judgement. Maybe Brady Hoke, whose jobs requires him dealing with not just Gibbons, but limitless athletes, recruits, boosters, alumni, coaches, administrators, and so on, simply relayed the wrong information and told the media as such. Let’s remember that a public statement to the media by Brady Hoke, who, by all accounts a good guy, is not the same as perjury in a court of law. Even if he did know why Gibbons was sent home, he has no legal obligation to tell that reason to the media.
Which brings me to this: we can expect people to forget this isn’t a joke. It’s not some EA Sports simulation. This scandal involves real people, and frankly, it’s easy to forget that behind a computer screen, in a bar, in the locker room, or any other place where you don’t have to actually know the human beings involved. Just look at Penn State again. It only took a matter of days for the public at large to reduce the entire atrocity down to a punch line involving some variation of, “Joe Pa looked the other way.”
The biggest thing we can expect in all of this? No one will really stop and think about the person who was really hurt in all of this. People will talk about the Michigan brand, the coaching staff, the players involved–not the alleged victim of sexual assault, the same person whose complaint took more than four years to even garner some attention.
That’s the real travesty here. Whether the claims against Gibbons are true or not (and judging by the school’s findings, there’s strong evidence to believe they are) the fact that it took more than four years for the university to do SOMETHING is disgusting. Everyone involved, from Ann Arbor police to university officials to the team itself, is culpable.
All we can do now is sit back and watch the truth–and hopefully justice–unfold, four years too late.
Hail! Hail! to Michigan, the leaders and best.
[via USA Today]
Image via AnnArbor.com