ANN ARBOR — A day after a report surfaced that Brendan Gibbons had been expelled from the University of Michigan for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy, neither the former football player nor the football program have publicly addressed the suspension, which is believed to stem from an incident that occurred in November, 2009.
Gibbons, who was a fifth-year-senior and a kicker for the Wolverines, has not returned phone calls made to his Florida home by The Blade. The Michigan Daily, UM’s student paper, reported that the university’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution notified Gibbons last month in writing that he was no longer allowed to enroll at and is “permanently separated from” Michigan.
More than four years passed between the incident and the report of Gibbons’ expulsion, which was effective Dec. 20 — three days before Michigan coach Brady Hoke told reporters Gibbons did not travel with the team to Arizona for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because of family reasons.
Katherine Redmond Brown, founder of National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, said a lack of response reflects poorly on any institution. She also said that silence is a reflection of the protective culture of college athletics.
“It says the athletic department is basically running the school and the justice system,” Brown said. “What it tells me and tells anybody is, basically, ‘If one of our athletes rapes or assaults somebody, I dare you to come to us with the information.’ ”
Since Brown began the organization in 1998, she has spoken to Major League Baseball teams and has worked with the NFL to address sexual assault and domestic violence awareness. Yet she can count on both hands the number of Division I programs she has addressed.
She has found that colleges and universities are generally reluctant to have an expert on sexual assault and domestic violence awareness speak to their athletic programs.
“Violence against women is an epidemic,” Brown said. “Schools will spend money to educate their athletes on nutrition, hydration, performance-enhancing drugs and gambling, but with the issue of violence against women, not a lot of schools have reached out.”
Brown made the observation Wednesday, a day after the report of Gibbons’ expulsion, which stems from a four-year-old incident. At the time, Ann Arbor police did not confirm an arrest, but confirmed that an 18-year-old UM football player had been questioned and released in connection with an incident linked to a report of a sexual assault the morning of Nov. 22, 2009.
“Title IX says that when someone knows something, there has to be an immediate investigation, and there’s a 60-day window to investigate it and come up with what happens,” Brown said. “This is four years.”
A Michigan spokesman addressed the gap in the investigation in a statement emailed Wednesday to The Blade: “Questions have been raised about the University of Michigan’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct in 2009. Those allegations were handled in accordance with the university policy in effect at the time.
“The university now adheres to the institution’s policy on sexual misconduct by students, which was adopted in 2013. ... Our current process allows that, if new information is obtained at a later point, the university could commence an investigation at that time.”
College athletics has been dotted by sexual assault incidents involving athletes.
Last week, ESPN.com found that the University of Missouri did not investigate or inform law enforcement officials about an alleged rape of Sasha Menu Courey, a Missouri swimmer, in 2010 by members of the football team. Menu Courey committed suicide in 2011.
In December, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy nine days after the Florida state attorney’s office announced that he would not be charged following an investigation into an alleged sexual battery.
Lynette Lange, a licensed professional counselor with Family Counseling and Shelter Services in Monroe, Mich., explained that instances of sexual assault and domestic violence involving celebrities, government figures, and athletes is magnified because of one factor.
“We hold them on a pedestal,” said Lange, whose organization provides counseling and support for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. “Pro athletes, college football athletes, celebrities. When some people hold them on a pedestal, you almost think they’re not human.
“Not many people are as interested if you say, it’s a factory worker who sexually assaulted a co-worker. That doesn’t catch a lot of attention like a football player would.”
In the mid-1990s, Jeff Benedict, a journalist, author and professor, and Todd Crosset, a sociologist and professor, spearheaded a national study on the prevalence of sexual assault among male student-athletes. It examined 107 cases of sexual assaults at 30 colleges and universities with top-20 football and basketball programs and found that male student-athletes make up three percent of a school’s male population but were responsible for 19 percent of the reported sexual assaults on campus. Their research also found that very few of those cases were publicly reported.
In 1993, Brown reported to police for sexual assault against former University of Nebraska football player Christian Peter — one of the first widely publicized assault incidents involving a Division I athlete — and in 1995 filed a Title IX lawsuit against Nebraska that charged the school with sex discrimination by indifference, for not protecting women on Nebraska’s campus. The case was eventually settled out of court.
Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandates equal educational opportunities for men and women in schools that receive federal funds, is known for the boom in women’s athletics. It also requires safe and accessible learning environments for both men and women.
Last week President Obama announced the formation of a new federal task force on college sex assault and cited statistics that show one in five female students is assaulted in college, yet only one in eight reports attacks.
“Hold schools accountable,” Brown said. “Go through the process. Even the president of the United States has caught wind of this and he’s brought it up. If you’re paying $150,000 to go to school and while you’re there, you’re assaulted, the psychological problems, the trauma, the anguish, you’re paying for that.
“There’s such a huge lack of education. It flies in the face of what a college or a university is here for.”