Michigan State suing ESPN over request of records involving sexual assault case

Vincent Frank
Dec 5, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A helmet is raised in celebration after the Michigan State Spartans defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Conference football championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this year, the Michigan State football program announced that it suspended three unnamed football players who were being investigated for sexual assault. Per Michigan state, the players’ names were kept secret at the request of the local prosecutor’s office.

This didn’t stop multiple media outlets from requesting information related to this investigation under the guise of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Now, feeling somewhat blindsided by the investigation and the media itself attempting to find out pertinent information, Michigan State is suing ESPN over its FOIA request.

“MSU argues in a court filing that it has been put in an “impossible position” because Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s office asked the university to withhold the records and ESPN asked for them to be released,” the Lansing State Journal reported on Tuesday. “An ESPN Inc. reporter submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with the university Feb. 10 seeking all police reports containing allegations of sexual assault since Dec. 10, 2016, as well as records of arrests made between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9, according to court documents.”

Interestingly enough, the State Journal itself is one of the media outlets that has attempted to receive further information from the investigation through the FOIA.

Some will conclude that this is Michigan State’s way of keeping the public in the dark about three football players that have been accused of and are under investigation for sexual assault. Though, if the local authorities requested that those under investigation be left nameless, it would stand to reason that Michigan State might follow along with those demands.

The interesting dynamic here is that Michigan State did release some documents to ESPN before local authorities stepped in and asked the university to hold the rest back. The fear there was that any public knowledge would potentially stunt the investigation itself.

“Specifically, Michigan State is asking the court if it can point to an existing FOIA exemption relating to active police investigations to withhold police reports requested by ESPN,” Yahoo Sports noted. “The prosecution, which has yet to make a decision whether or not to file charges in the case, has requested as such.”

It is not rare for authorities to demand an exemption to FOIA if they think the case they are investigating will be negatively impacted. The entire idea behind the Freedom of Information Act — signed into law by then President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 — is to give both the media and the public the ability to see for themselves relevant information pertaining to important events and investigations.

We’re not too sure how this is all going to play out. Though, there will be information released to the public either when charges are filed or when the Michigan State football team (minus these three suspended players) take to the field in the fall.