Rotten From The Top: Former Michigan State Dean Goes To Jail
Here’s a leadership truism: you reproduce what you are. I’ve been around enough Great coaches and leaders in the sports world to know that the character of the coach is always reflected in the character of the team.
John Wooden’s UCLA teams played selfless, precise basketball. Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke teams play with passion and discipline. Bill Belichick’s Patriots play with a whole-hearted commitment to the team, and Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide is sold out to The Process. Good leaders reproduce themselves.
But so do bad ones.
That was driven home to me today as I read details and transcripts from the sentencing of William Strampel, the former dean of Michigan State University, who had professional oversight of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar’s name became synonymous with abuse of power, sexual assault, trauma, and the very worst of the sporting world. He is currently serving two sentences of 40-125 years in jail after being convicted of multiple sex crimes against 150 young women.
Nassar’s actions were so heinous, the judge who presided over his sentencing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, declared, “I just signed your death warrant.”
Today, the leader whose job it was to lead, monitor and discipline Nassar went to jail, too.
Strampel was accused by multiple students of abusing his power to sexually harass, demean, and proposition students who came to his office. Strampel was also charged with failing to exercise appropriate oversight with regard to Nassar and his actions—even after the University had changed protocols to limit Nassar’s opportunity for assault. He was convicted of both a felony misconduct charge for using his public office to sexually harass students as well as the second charge of willfully neglecting to monitor Nassar.
According to the Associated Press, “During Strampel’s trial, multiple former medical students testified about sexual comments and innuendo he made during one-on-one meetings — saying they did not report the inappropriate behavior because of the power he had over their futures in medicine. They accused him of staring at their breasts. Women who worked as model patients during exams also testified about unprofessional and sexual comments.
“Investigators said Strampel’s work computer contained photos of nude and semi-nude young women with Michigan State logo piercings or clothing.”
Strampel was the first person fired after Michigan State began investigating Nassar in 2017, and it’s obvious why: he enabled Nassar. But he didn’t just enable Nassar systematically or even unintentionally—he enabled Nassar by virtue of his own bad character.
I’ve covered countless sports stories where leaders make a positive difference, where a person with authority and clout steps up and makes things better, elevating the people around them by virtue of their good character. It’s one of my favorite things about sports, and why I mine these games for lessons that I can pass on to help you achieve Greatness in your life.
But there’s a dark side to leadership, one that rears its head when men like Strampel and Nassar use their positions to abuse others and satiate their own corrupt character. I’ve covered those stories, too, and they sicken me.
That’s not how leadership should work. Ever. Leaders should build up others, adding value to their lives. Strampel and Nassar destroyed others, stealing from their lives just to please their own evil desires.
The AP story shared this from student Leah Jackson, who told the court at sentencing that Strampel made sexually suggestive remarks during their first meeting.
“Why was he so confident he could get away with it?” she said. “It makes me wonder how many other people he had done this to.”
Jackson then went on.
“He was supposed to protect us and he chose to betray us.”
Today, another person goes to jail in the aftermath of one of the saddest chapters in sports history. It feels small and insufficient—it will never return to those young students what was taken from them, nor will it make amends for what men like Nassar and Strampel have done.
But it will not go in vain if you and I learn the lesson that who we are is what we reproduce in others.
I wonder if that lesson will ever be learned by Strampel. His willingness to turn a blind eye to Nassar’s deeds reproduced abuse and destruction on a level that’s hard to comprehend. His bad leadership leaves behind a legacy of pain.
And now, he’s got a year to think about how his legacy is nothing but ashes; his name forever a curse in the mouths of his and Nassar’s victims. I hope he takes a long look at himself in his prison mirror and sees just how wretched that character is—and what, in its own way, his behavior reproduced.