Michigan State athletic director retires amid Larry Nassar scandal

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State University’s athletic director retired Friday, two days after the university president resigned over the school’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against its disgraced former sports doctor, Larry Nassar.

Mark Hollis, who had been in the job for 10 years, disclosed the move during a meeting with a small group of reporters on campus. He was asked why he would not stay on.

“Because I care,” Hollis said, holding back tears. “When you look at the scope of everything, that’s the reason I made a choice to retire now. And I hope that has a little bit, a little bit, of helping that healing process.”

Hours later, the university named its vice president to serve as acting president after the departure of President Lou Anna Simon. Bill Beekman is expected to serve briefly in the role until the board of trustees can hire an interim president and then a permanent leader.

At their meeting, all eight trustees made statements and apologies, many of them emotionally delivered. Board Chairman Brian Breslin said it was “clear that MSU has not been focused enough on the victims.” The trustees, he said, want to resume discussions with those who have sued the school to “reach a fair and just conclusion.” Talks broke down last year.

The board plans to ask an independent third party to review health and safety at the school, and it wants state Attorney General Bill Schuette to consider appointing a neutral investigator to conduct an inquiry of the Nassar matter “to promote bipartisan acceptance of the results.”

Trustee Brian Mosallam said: “I am so truly sorry. We failed you.”

Beekman is vice president and secretary of the board. He began working at the university in 1995 and previously led the MSU Alumni Association. He has an undergraduate degree from MSU.

“I think our culture here at Michigan State clearly needs to improve,” he said. “We need to be able to make everybody that comes on our campus feel safe.”

Simon submitted her resignation Wednesday after Nassar, a former Michigan State employee, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young girls and women under the guise of medical treatment.

Several of the 150-plus victims who spoke at his sentencing hearing were former athletes at the school, and many victims accused the university of mishandling past complaints about Nassar, who also molested Olympians and other young gymnasts while working for USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body.

“I don’t believe that I’ve ever met him,” Hollis said of Nassar. He insisted he did not know about complaints of abuse until an Indianapolis Star report in 2016.

Also Friday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos confirmed her agency is investigating the Nassar scandal. She said in a statement that what happened at the school is “abhorrent” and “cannot happen ever again — there or anywhere.”

The Education Department was already reviewing separate complaints about the school’s compliance with Title IX, the law that requires public schools to offer equal opportunities to both genders, and compliance with requirements about providing campus crime and security information.

The board expressed support for Simon before her resignation, but she faced pressure from many students, faculty and legislators. While there has been no evidence that Simon or Hollis knew Nassar was sexually abusing girls and women, some of the women and girls who accused him said they complained to university employees as far back as the late 1990s.

Board members, who are elected in statewide votes, have come under intense scrutiny. Two announced they will not seek re-election. Another, Joel Ferguson, apologized at the meeting for conducting an interview in which he said there was more going on at Michigan State than “this Nassar thing.”

The university faces lawsuits from more than 130 women and girls. Ferguson previously had said victims were ambulance chasers out for a payday. The school resisted calls for an independent investigation before asking Schuette for a review a week ago.

Students planned a Friday evening march and protest.

In a recent filing, Michigan State asked a judge to dismiss the cases against the university on technical grounds. The school says it has immunity under state law and that the majority of victims were not MSU students at the time of the alleged assaults.

“These arguments can seem disrespectful” to victims, but a defense is required by Michigan State’s insurers, Simon wrote last week in a campus-wide email. She added, “We have the utmost respect and sympathy” for victims.

The board last month authorized the creation of a $10 million fund to offer victims counseling and mental health services.

A Title IX probe conducted by the university cleared Nassar of sexual assault allegations in 2014. He was advised by the school to avoid being alone with patients while treating their “sensitive areas,” but the school did not follow up on and enforce its request.

At least 12 reported assaults occurred after the investigation ended, according to a university police report that was provided to the FBI for review by the U.S. attorney.

Hollis said he did not know about the 2014 investigation and has told as much to the FBI and campus police.

“In hindsight, you ask yourself that question,” he said when asked if he should have been aware of it. “But that was not my choice at that time.”

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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