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Michigan Faces Federal Investigation Over Brendan Gibbons Rape Allegation Response

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Michigan hoped silence would let the Brendan Gibbons sexual misconduct situation diffuse with time. That does not appear to be happening. The University now faces an investigation from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, after receiving two complaints that improper action over sexual misconduct allegations created a “sexually hostile environment.”

According to the letter sent to Smith: “(The Office for Civil Rights) has determined it is appropriate to proceed to investigation on the following issue: that the University failed to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice, and, as a result, students were subjected to a sexually hostile environment.”

Gibbons was arrested and questioned after an alleged rape in Nov. 2009, but never charged with a crime. Michigan changed its sexual misconduct policy in 2011. It appears something, perhaps this blog post, sparked the school to re-visit the case years later. Gibbons was found responsible for a violation of the student sexual misconduct policy by Michigan’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution on Nov. 20.

It’s not clear what happened in 2009 or why no university charges proceeded against Gibbons or Taylor Lewan, who was alleged to have threatened the accuser, at that time. Michigan denied the athletics department had any influence over sexual misconduct investigations. Then AD Bill Martin denied the incident was ever brought to his attention (perhaps he was off sailing?). Then head coach Rich Rodriguez did not respond to the Michigan Daily’s inquiries for comment. At least one report about the incident in 2009 died on the editorial desk.

Questions also remain about how Michigan handled the matter in 2013. Gibbons was found responsible by the OSCR on Nov. 20, 2013. Yet, he played in Michigan’s game against Iowa on Nov. 23 (before missing the Ohio State game with an “injury”). He attended Michigan’s football banquet on Dec. 9. He was described as “iffy” for the bowl game on Dec. 16.

The earliest known time the Michigan athletic department knew was Dec. 19, when Gibbons sent an outgoing fax from the athletic department foregoing his right to appeal and accepting expulsion. Brady Hoke misled the media about his departure, telling reporters he was missing the bowl trip due to a family matter, on Dec. 23. Michigan released a statement saying it could not comment on the matter.

Michigan’s athletic department not knowing about the investigation and its result well before Dec. 19th seems improbable. There may have been no requirement to take action against Gibbons until the process reached its conclusion. However, given the nature of the accusation, not having done so after the initial guilty finding seems incredibly insensitive. Or, perhaps, far too sensitive toward a specific athlete.

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[Getty, @zhelfand]

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