When LSU’s football team emerges from the north end zone tunnel in 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium for its traditional spring scrimmage on Saturday, players will take a field emblazoned with a logo recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The emblem symbolizes an effort to promote healing on campus and reminds LSU’s inevitable challenges for the foreseeable future. It is unclear what impact investigations by the U.S. Department of Education and a state senate select committee into how the university has handled sexual misconduct allegations, as well as a $50 million civil lawsuit in federal court, will have on LSU’s athletics programs.
But regardless of the outcomes, it will likely take time to remove the stain from LSU’s tarnished brand.
“LSU’s like my children. I’m always going to love it, but I want it to do better,” said political pundit James Carville, an LSU graduate who teaches at the university, has one child enrolled there and another who graduated from there. “Right now. It’s not doing better.”
While no current LSU coach or official has been fired yet, the allegations from female students dating back nearly a decade caught up with former high-profile universities after they left the school. Recent revelations about how those allegations were handled were unsavory enough for former LSU football coach Les Miles and ex-university President F. King Alexander was run out of their most recent jobs elsewhere.
Miles, who won a national title while coaching at LSU from 2005 to 2016, lost his job at Kansas. Oregon State fired President F. King Alexander held a similar post at LSU when allegations that Miles made improper sexual advances toward female students working in the football office were kept private by the university and its law firm in 2013 – despite a recommendation by then-athletic director Joe Alleva that Miles be fired.
There does not appear to be any imminent threat to the job of current LSU football coach Ed Orgeron. But he is choosing his words carefully, partly because of the federal lawsuit filed by current LSU associate athletic director Sharon Lewis. Her lawsuit alleges that certain current or former members of LSU’s athletic administration and football staff conspired to retaliate against her when she tried to report Miles’ alleged advances toward female students, which would violate federal Title IX laws banning gender-based discrimination, harassment, or violence.
Orgeron declined this week to go into detail about what he tells current and prospective athletes and their families if they express concern about the potential upheaval at LSU because of pending investigations or the lawsuit. “We discuss that internally,” Orgeron said this week. “We have a plan. We have a lot of people that have a lot of talks and stuff like that, but I’m going to leave it at that.”
Orgeron stated in a letter to the state Senate Select Committee on Women and Children that he supports work lawmakers and others are doing to try to protect women at LSU.
Meanwhile, the football program has hosted speakers from advocacy groups such as Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR). Other speakers have included LSU Title IX investigator Jeff Scott and LSU general counsel Winston DeCuir. And there are more scheduled.
However, some view these as reactionary and token gestures that do not hold accountable those at LSU who did not aggressively push to have sexual misconduct allegations investigated for years.
“LSU is still not taking Title IX seriously,” said Tammye Brown, an attorney for Lewis, who remains employed by LSU as her lawsuit against the school goes forward.
She cited LSU’s decision to bar employees from appearing at a hearing last week held by the state senate committee following up on a review by the Husch Blackwell law firm that scrutinized LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints. The 148-page study was campus-wide, also looking, for example, at cases against fraternity members. But some of the higher-profile issues involved football players, including former running back Derrius Guice, who was cut by the NFL’s Washington Football Team last year following a domestic violence arrest.