- After losing his job in the wake of the Baylor sexual assault scandal, Art Briles was, for a few hours on Monday, coaching via the CFL. To hire him is to declare that football means more than human life.
The now-deleted press release put out by the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats to announce the hiring of Art Briles as the team’s new offensive coordinator didn’t go light on his accomplishments. You’ll find his combined record as the head coach of Baylor and Houston; his Big 12 championships, awards and honors; his former players who have found their way to NFL stardom. But you won’t see anything about the culture of rape that Briles presided over and covered up at Baylor, or all his players who were accused of or charged with sexual assault, or any mention about how unrepentant he’s been about the entire scandal since being fired by the university last year. All you get is a list of the things he did right on the football field, and not the things he did off of it that should have barred him from ever coaching again.
(The CFL and the Tiger-Cats announced on Monday night that Briles would not joining the team, and on Tuesday morning Hamilton owner Bob Young said in a statement that the team “made a large and serious mistake.”)
The details of what happened at Baylor under Briles are sickening. At least 52 acts of rape committed by 31 different players between 2011 and ’14, including five gang rapes, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a former Baylor student. Multiple instances of Briles and his staff either ignoring or covering up reports of assault and interfering with police investigations. Players not disciplined while victims were encouraged to keep quiet or leave the university. A blind eye toward accepting players with a history of violence toward women. Recruits enticed with alcohol and drugs at off-campus parties, with the coaching staff allegedly paying for women to have sex with them. Under Briles, Baylor’s focus was football, no matter what the moral or human cost.
Things only came to an end in 2015, following the arrest of former player Sam Ukwuachu, which began to raise unpleasant questions about what Briles knew and when. Lawsuits followed, all deepening the scandal. Down went Briles, as well as a number of other high-ranking officials at Baylor, including university president Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw. But somehow, despite being the face of a program that had essentially condoned sexual assault, Briles didn’t find himself wanting for contacts elsewhere in football. He consulted for the Browns in October and for Florida Atlantic earlier this month through his son Kendal, who is an assistant there (though FAU head coach Lane Kiffin made clear that Briles had no formal role with the program). Rumors linked him to Auburn’s offensive coordinator gig, LSU’s search to replace Les Miles, and, briefly, Houston’s deliberations over candidates to take the place of Tom Herman.
Amid his attempts to worm his way back into football, Briles tried to clear his own name. Last August, he told reporters that he had “never done anything illegal, immoral [or] unethical.” In September, he gave a self-serving apology in an interview with ESPN in which the words “rape” and “sexual assault” were never used, and in which he says he and the school—which again, knowingly did nothing when told that players were committing rapes—“did the best we could at the time.” In March, he wrote an open letter in which he denied any role in covering up sexual or domestic assaults—a claim refuted by numerous reports that he did exactly that.
It would take some incredible mental gymnastics to believe any of Briles’s claims that he was ignorant of what was going on in his program, or that he and his staff took any real measures to stop his players. Even Briles himself seems to have acknowledged as much. In February, he dropped a defamation lawsuit against Baylor just days after the former student filed her lawsuit claiming that dozens of rapes had taken place during his tenure as head coach. Around the same time, the university released a score of text messages in response to another lawsuit, showing that Briles, McCaw and two assistant coaches had repeatedly tried to cover up several instances of rape, assault, drug use and other crimes by Baylor players.
But despite all of this horrible behavior and a lack of any real remorse on Briles’s part, there he was, for at least a few hours, getting another job in football. Anyone with Briles’s record of criminal negligence—who more or less condoned rape and assault in exchange for a winning program—has no place within the world of athletics, no matter what level.
To give Briles a job is to act as if every awful thing he did means nothing. Speaking about the hiring to CFL news site 3 Down Nation, Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell defended the hire, saying, “Art Briles is a good man who was caught in a very bad situation.”
In heading north Briles’s hope was likely that, with a couple of years of quiet coordinator work, he could resurface, forgotten by the public and long ago passed by the news cycle, with the stink of Baylor’s scandal no longer on him. His interviews and open letter were all about rehabilitating his image, and Hamilton was momentarily willing to provide him the next step in that process. (And the Tiger-Cats are apparently the most tone-deaf franchise in the world: Briles’s hire was announced the same day the team held a women’s clinic for female fans.)
“At the end of the day, I think people would agree that people deserve second chances,” Mitchell said. “Art Briles is a good person who deserves the opportunity to be a coach.” But even if his story ends in Canada, it should never have gotten to this point. His coaching career should have been buried and left for dead alongside the execrable likes of McCaw (who, it should be noted, found employment as the athletic director at Liberty) and Starr and everyone else who turned Baylor into a horror house. He never should have gotten even a chance at a second chance. To hire him is to declare, somehow without shame, that football means more than human life—that Art Briles and others like him will only be defined by the games they win, and not the pain they cause in the process.