LSU reeling amid sexual assault cases
When LSU’s football team emerges from the north end zone tunnel in 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium for its traditional spring scrimmage on Saturday, players will take a field emblazoned with a logo recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The logo symbolizes an effort to promote healing on campus, but also is a reminder of the inescapable challenges that LSU faces for the foreseeable future. It is unclear what impact investigations by the U.S. Department of Education and a state senate select committee into how the university has handled sexual misconduct allegations, as well as a $50 million civil lawsuit in federal court, will have on LSU’s athletics programs.
But regardless of the outcomes, it will likely take time to remove the stain from LSU’s tarnished brand.
While no current LSU coach or official has been fired yet, the allegations from female students dating back nearly a decade caught up with former high-profile universities after they left the school. Recent revelations about how those allegations were handled were unsavory enough that a former LSU football coach Les Miles and ex-university President F. King Alexander were run out of their most recent jobs elsewhere.
Miles, who won a national title while coaching at LSU from 2005 to 2016, lost his job at Kansas.
Oregon State fired President F. King Alexander, who held a similar post at LSU when allegations that Miles made improper sexual advances toward female students working in the football office were kept private by the university and its law firm in 2013 - despite a recommendation by then-athletic director Joe Alleva that Miles be fired.
There does not appear to be any imminent threat to the job of current LSU football coach Ed Orgeron. But he is choosing his words carefully, partly because of the federal lawsuit filed by current LSU associate athletic director Sharon Lewis. Her lawsuit alleges that certain current or former members of LSU’s athletic administration and football staff conspired to retaliate against her when she tried to report Miles’ alleged advances toward female students, which would violate federal Title IX laws banning genderbased discrimination, harassment or violence. Orgeron declined this week to go into detail about what he tells current and prospective athletes, and their families, if they express concern about the potential upheaval at LSU because of pending investigations or the lawsuit.
“We discuss that internally,” Orgeron said this week. “We have a plan.”
Orgeron stated in a letter to the state Senate Select Committee on Women and Children that he supports work lawmakers and others are doing to try to protect women at LSU.
Meanwhile, the football program has hosted speakers from advocacy groups such as Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR). Other speakers have included LSU Title IX investigator Jeff Scott and LSU general counsel Winston DeCuir. And there are more scheduled.
However, some view these as reactionary and token gestures which do not hold accountable those at LSU who for years did not aggressively push to have sexual misconduct allegations investigated.
“LSU is still not taking Title IX seriously,” said Tammye Brown, an attorney for Lewis.
She cited LSU’s decision to bar employees from appearing at a hearing last week held by the state senate committee that is following up on a review by the Husch Blackwell law firm that scrutinized LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints. Husch Blackwell concluded that LSU had come up woefully short in committing needed resources to Title IX compliance and tended to offer more resistance than help to alleged victims.