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Blackwell's lawyers say MSU gave conflicting reasons for not renewing his contract

Posted at 3:48 PM, Jan 30, 2020

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Fox 47 is learning more details of what Michigan State University football coach told attorneys in his deposition in the Curtis Blackwell lawsuit last week.

Blackwell is claiming he was fired because MSU needed a "scapegoat" for the controversy surrounding three football players and allegations of rape.

According to Dantonio's testimony that we have obtained, Blackwell's attorney questioned if the reasons Dantonio and MSU have claimed as his dismissal has changed throughout the process.

In his nearly six hour deposition, Dantonio testified that he told Blackwell they weren't renewing his contract because of philosophical differences.

Dantonio, while he was in Italy, said he told Blackwell over the phone on May 22, 2016, that they were not renewing his contract.

However, Blackwell's attorney asked Dantonio about a couple of email exchanges that appear to have changed the reason for his termination.

One email from an MSU attorney to Blackwell's agent stated that Blackwell was told he was not being renewed because of a staffing review and concerns that have arisen regarding his job performance.

Blackwell's attorney asked Dantonio several questions about whether Blackwell's performance had anything to do with his termination.

Dantonio testified that he told Blackwell it was philosophical differences, not specifically performance reviews.

He was also asked about an email sent the next day by the same attorney that stated quote: "This language more closely aligns with the conversation of yesterday morning between your client and Coach Dantonio."

She also added in that email that Dantonio had concerns regarding potential conflict of interest.

Blackwell's attorney asked Coach Dantonio if he did indeed tell Blackwell there were these concerns.

Dantonio again testified that he told Blackwell there was philosophical differences.

Blackwell's attorney's also focused on the letter that the Human Resource department sent to Blackwell regarding his termination a few days later.

That letter did not include references of staffing reviews or a potential conflict of interest.

They questioned Dantonio about why that letter no longer included those reasons.

Dantonio testified he didn't write the letter but thought it was because they were writing a more generic response.

Blackwell's attorney's have filed a motion to have Dantonio sit for more questioning.

MSU's attorneys have also requested another round of questions for Blackwell.

MSU's current athletic director, Bill Beekman, Tim Allen, who is the director of operations and MSU's compliance director, have also all been deposed.

Blackwell claims he believed he was the scapegoat testifying, "I think when the Auston Robertson thing blew up, I think they wanted to pin that on me in the recruiting department. So, if I was cast out, scapegoated and when everything came out with Auston Robertson in that investigation, that it would be a part of the Curtis Blackwell era of recruiting and it wouldn’t reflect poorly on Mark Dantonio, Mark Hollis, and Lou Anna Simon as Larry Nassar did. So, at that point I felt like they kind of just let me go, so that way they can kind of sweep it all out the front door."

Dantonio's attorneys do not agree that he should be deposed for a second time, claiming Blackwell’s attorneys asked irrelevant questions the first time.

As for Dantonio specifically, Blackwell claims he ignored warnings from his assistant coaches about former player Auston Robertson, who was later convicted of sexual assault, according to court documents in Blackwell's lawsuit.

Blackwell was suspended amid a sexual assault investigation involving three former players in early 2017. The investigation led to charges being filed against Donnie Corley, Demetric Vance and Josh King. All three took a plea deal in the case. MSU decided not to renew Blackwell's contract in May of 2017.

Records, obtained by us through a Freedom of Information Act request, show MSU Police wanted Blackwell to be charged with interfering with the sexual assault investigation. The documents show Blackwell admitted discussing the allegations with multiple players, football staff members and at least one player's father.

He was never charged with a crime.

The lawsuit alleges Blackwell was suspended in violation of his employment agreement and was never given the opportunity to give his side of the story.

"Had they, (Blackwell) would have explained that he did not provide cover for the student athletes or interfere with an investigation; rather, he was simply performing his job which required 'mentoring student athletes'", the lawsuit states.

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