By James Duffy, sports editor
At the end of last month, Baylor University found itself the latest school mired in a sexual assault scandal. Baylor had employed the law firm Pepper Hamilton to independently investigate the university’s alleged failings to implement Title IX and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Both laws were written to help create a safe, non-discriminatory environment for women on college campuses, but Pepper Hamilton found that Baylor had failed to implement them.
The report released by Pepper Hamilton when the investigation was finished was scathing, showing just how poorly the university had handled reports of sexual violence:
- Based on a high-level audit of all reports of sexual harassment or violence for three academic years from 2012-2013 through 2014-2015, Pepper found that the University’s student conduct processes were wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response under Title IX, that Baylor failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures, and that in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, or address its effects for individual complainants or the broader campus community.
Essentially, Baylor officials did very little to enforce these laws, protect students on campus or prevent sexual violence. The report also showed that many of these failings came from within the athletic department, specifically the football program. According to Pepper Hamilton’s findings, officials within the department made no effort to respond to reports of sexual assault, nor were players disciplined for their actions. Finally, the report forced Baylor’s hand, and once it was released, head football coach Art Briles was fired, and university president Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw were among the names of those to be disciplined.
During his eight seasons as head coach, not only did Briles fail to discipline his players for their actions;his own conduct tacitly encouraged it. He recruited two players who had been previously dismissed from schools for issues with women, including Sam Ukwuachu, who hit and choked his girlfriend while playing for Boise State, and Shawn Oakman, who was dismissed from Penn State’s team after allegedly grabbing the arm of a female store clerk. Both found a chance at redemption at Baylor, a school that could ignore their records of abusing women if they could rush the quarterback. Both have since been arrested for sexual assault.
It was really a simple formula for Briles and co.: Bring in the best players you could, make millions, get to huge bowl games and turn a blind eye as your athletes assault and harass women. That’s the culture of football in a lot of places, and many other programs operate in a similar fashion. Just ask Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys. Jones actually employed Greg Hardy, a great pass rusher who was also found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Jones signed Hardy after he was found guilty, because it’s apparently easy to overlook abuse when someone can deliver sacks.
Briles, Starr and McCaw are not the issue, however. Don’t get me wrong – all three are vile and should never be put in leadership positions again – but they’re just part of a bigger problem: Culture. Pepper Hamilton’s findings reflected “significant concerns” about a culture that lacks accountability for misconduct at Baylor, but this culture expands far beyond Waco, Texas. Baylor is just a prime example of a program that valued winning far above character. On multiple occasions, the university was aware of allegations of assault and made no effort to investigate or discipline the accused athletes. They were allowed to continue with the team unimpeded, setting a standard that anyone who can help Baylor get to their next bowl game is above the law.
This isn’t just happening at Baylor; this is just the most recent high profile example. Florida State operated the same way when they ignored rape accusations against star quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012 simply because he was a Heisman candidate and brought wins and money to the school. Local police and university officials protected Winston during the investigation, which was happening while he led Florida State to the playoffs. Winston was then selected first overall in the NFL Draft, because his talent outweighed his crimes.
This is the culture that needs to change. Firing Briles was a start, as people like him perpetuate this culture. He deserved to lose his job, and everyone in Baylor’s athletic department should be tried criminally if they deliberately ignored reports of sexual assault, but that won’t solve the greater problem at hand. The idea of overlooking misconduct to keep athletes on the field needs to be completely dismantled. Nothing will change until programs start to preach that winning isn’t everything, that character is more important than championships and that being an athlete does not put you above the law.