Michigan State Spartans football player files Title IX lawsuit, alleging unfair suspension

A Michigan State football player filed a Title IX lawsuit Friday alleging he has been unfairly suspended from the team and in limbo since February while university investigators have yet to make a decision as to the sexual misconduct allegations against him.

The lawsuit states that a woman reported that the plaintiff, a sophomore scholarship football player, and another MSU football player sexually assaulted her in the other player's room on Jan. 31. The plaintiff said the encounter was consensual, according to the complaint.

Neither the football players nor the woman are identified by name in the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the university and the football player's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The exact details of the alleged assault have not been publicly released. An entry in MSU's daily crime log notes a reported sexual assault at a residence hall on Jan. 30, 2021. ESPN has made multiple requests for a copy of the police report and has yet to receive any documents from the university. Requests to the Ingham County district attorney for copies of the report have been denied on the basis that the case is still under investigation.

The lawsuit states that since January, "MSU has not completed the grievance process, has not submitted the case to the final decision-makers, has not held a hearing, and has not provided Plaintiff with either updates regarding timing or an end date." The football player also initially was not allowed to move into student apartments over the summer with the rest of the team, the lawsuit states, until his parents met with the athletic director and he was then permitted to move there.

It states that since the player's suspension in February, he has not "been able to practice, lift, compete, or travel with his team," and that those actions deprive him of "substantial educational opportunity."

The lawsuit states that the football player was questioned by police and then reported the allegation to his coach on or around Feb. 3. The next morning, head football coach Mel Tucker suspended the plaintiff from practice and all team activities.

Prior attempts by athletes at other universities to make such arguments have typically failed on the grounds that sports participation is a privilege, not a right, and not protected as an educational opportunity under the federal gender equity provision of Title IX.

But new Title IX rules from the U.S. Department of Education that went into place last year prohibit schools from imposing certain interim actions against students accused of sexual misconduct that are considered "unreasonably burdensome," and specifically cite removal from sports teams as a possible example.

"Changing a class schedule, for example, may more often be deemed an acceptable, reasonable burden than restricting a respondent from participating on a sports team, holding a student government position, participating in an extracurricular activity, and so forth," the regulations state, noting that certain "supportive measures" can be granted to accommodate the alleged victim.

The lawsuit states that the woman has a student internship position with the team that requires her to interact with the football team on a daily basis, and the plaintiff wrote to the Title IX investigator that he believed her "fear of losing her position" prompted her to accuse him of sexual assault. The plaintiff states that he "continues to see Jane Doe almost daily" as he encounters her in the gym when he works out, according to the lawsuit.