Baylor fired Art Briles on Thursday, but the university tolerated a culture of sexual assault and bad behavior just to keep winning football games.
Baylor did the right thing, finally, after a public shaming that went on far too long. It has been obvious for a months—thanks largely to excellent reporting from Texas Monthly and ESPN’s Outside the Lines—that Baylor’s football program had a major cultural problem. Coach Art Briles had developed a culture that tolerated sexual assault, a culture that lasted so long because Briles won so much. Think of how sickening that sentence is.
So now Briles has been fired, and president Kenneth Starr is “transitioning” to a lesser role, and you’d like to think the Baylor community is saying, “Never again.” But Baylor already had its “never again” moment.
Remember? In 2003, Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was killed. His teammate Carlton Dotson did it. Baylor coach Dave Bliss, worried that illegal payments would come out in the investigation, tried to frame Dennehy as a drug dealer. It was just about the lowest and most cynical move you could imagine a college coach pulling. Baylor’s president at the time, Robert Sloan, told The New York Times: “We ask ourselves, 'How did it happen?’ But it did happen here.''
Baylor’s response, incredibly, was to put even more emphasis on athletics. In 2012, with the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams rolling, athletic director Ian McCaw, who was sanctioned and put on probation on Thursday, told SI’s S.L. Price: "Our role is to glorify God through our athletic program.”
How did that work out?
We like to think of major college sports programs as educational enterprises, which they sometimes are, or businesses, which they almost always are. But they’re always addicts. They are addicted to winning. Like most addicts, they surround themselves with enablers (fans), and they rationalize their behavior, and they convince themselves they don’t have a problem.
What happened at Baylor is disgusting. It happened because the school was blinded by winning, and also because, like so many other schools, it was blinded by its own self-righteousness. If you love Baylor and believe it would never tolerate sexual assault, then you dismiss evidence that Baylor is tolerating sexual assault, because Baylor doesn’t do that.
And here is the challenge for Baylor:
Remember this week. Remember the Briles era for the violent conduct it tolerated. Remember the back-and-forth with Boise State over whether Baylor knew about the violent past of Sam Ukwuachu, who transferred from Boise to Baylor and then was convicted of sexually assaulting a Baylor athlete.
Remember Starr saying, in September, that the school works “tirelessly” to provide a safe environment, and that rapists “will find no shelter on our campus.” And remember the report, released this week, that basically called Starr a liar:
“The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University. In certain instances, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics. In those instances, football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct. As a result, no action was taken to support complainants.”
Remember this when the next coach is hired.
Remember it when you go 6–6.
And remember it if you go 11–1 again, too. Remember that 11–1 is not worth a damn if this is how you do it.
I’m sure that some Baylor alums are still in denial, or think this is all a media story, and I’m sure some of them are playing the “Why doesn’t the media talk about (insert some other school) instead of us?” card. I’m also sure that many Baylor alums are horrified and embarrassed by what happened at their school. I would like to think that group is the majority.
But see, being horrified today is the easy part. The challenge for an addict is not being clean sometimes; it’s staying clean all the time. It’s a daily battle, and college sports programs are no different.
When Dave Bliss was fired, that was a pretty good time for Baylor to step back and establish a set of standards that were more important than winning. That is how Baylor could have been different. Instead, Baylor decided to prove it could glorify God through its athletic programs, and while that could be interpreted in a variety of ways, nobody ever says they’re going to glorify God by losing to Texas by six touchdowns. Winning was an essential component of the mission. Too essential.