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Michigan State Coach Izzo Spoke to Title IX Investigation Witness

April 3, 2020
 
 

Tom Izzo, head coach of the Michigan State University men’s basketball team, contacted a witness in a campus police and university investigation of sexual assault by a basketball player in 2017 before the witness spoke to officials, according to police records obtained by ESPN.

Izzo and two assistant coaches reached out to the witness, Brayden Smith, and “asked if he was OK and if there was anything that he had seen during the evening” Smith was with Brock Washington, the accused basketball player, ESPN reported. Smith’s father is a former Michigan State basketball player and was on the team when Izzo was an assistant coach, and Smith told investigators he considers the coach his “godfather,” according to a report made to the university office that handles claims under Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funding.

Michigan State’s Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, “did not find any violation of interference or inappropriateness on behalf of the coaching staff,” Emily Guerrant, a university spokesperson, said in an email. The university has a policy against “employees interfering with an OIE investigation or trying to do their own investigation,” she said. A Title IX expert told ESPN the coaches’ actions could open Michigan State up to a U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights complaint or a lawsuit.

Washington pleaded guilty in 2018 to misdemeanor assault for the incident, in which Rebecca Lambert, a former student who has publicly identified herself, said he kissed and groped her without consent, ESPN reported. Lambert’s Title IX report investigated by OIE found that Washington was not in violation of Michigan State's sexual misconduct policy a year prior to his plea, according to ESPN.

During the university's investigation, Washington was on the basketball team but did not receive any playing time, and he has played in 16 games since, during both the 2018-19 season and 2019-20 season, ESPN reported. But now, both the university and police are investigating a separate claim of rape against Washington made in January, for which he was “immediately suspended” from the basketball team, Guerrant said.

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