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TCU Football:  The Heart Of The Matter

Kendal Briles may not have done anything truly wicked--and TCU still shouldn't hire him
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One of the interesting things about sport is how it mirrors society.  There are rules and they evolve based on circumstance; empirical realities have to be considered, and once made official, certain individuals are entrusted with their enforcement.  In sport, we call these individuals referees.  Socially, these rules are law, enforced by police, interpreted by attorneys, and determined by judges.  And, as I am happy to remind everyone all the time, none of these entities is perfect.  Often certain individuals prove incompetent or derelict of duty or downright corrupt.  Nevertheless, it is better to have them than otherwise.  They keep the game functional. 

Then there is justice.  

Part of being an adult, a rational one, is, to the furthest extent possible, setting aside one's biases, learning his or her prejudices, and engaging the world with a basic eye to fairness.  That life isn't fair goes without saying; injustices occur and sometimes the wrong people are blamed and sometimes the wrong people are acquitted. 

To the extent I possess any wisdom on the matter, I have, as far as one can, taken pride that TCU really does, on the whole, perform an admirable job of fostering a culture of basic kindness, generosity, and fairness.  No institution is perfect, but I have never regretted my decision to attend TCU, nor have I regretted my support for TCU athletics.  And while I have always maintained our mission statement is a joke (to educate individuals to think and act like ethical leaders in the global community), as are all such axiomatic gestures, there is a sense in which our athletic culture does promote a kind of decency that emanates on field and court and off.  In short, I have always been proud of being a Horned Frog because I could point at our athletes and say "they have heart, good ones" which their coaches nourished and nurtured.  

It is for that reason I am opposed, and will always oppose, the hiring of Kendal Briles.  

Now a few concessions to his supporters are in order.

In law and our social relations we make distinctions in matters of wrong-doing.  There are peccadillos we refer to as misdemeanors, and serious infractions we consider felonies (the distinction between the two is never as clear as we might like to think).  In good faith, we believe that people guilty of both are capable of rehabilitation and, as human beings, possess a fundamental dignity that allows them a path to redemption.  

From what I have found (and I welcome anyone who knows better to please correct the record), nothing specific incriminates Briles of enabling the 52 alleged sexual assaults committed by 31 players of the Baylor football team between 2011 and 2014 (and just to be clear, there were convictions, including those of Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwuachu).  Nor can I find anything he did specifically to cover them up.  That said, I can find nothing specific he did to prevent them either.  

The one detailed allegation I've found against Briles personally was he employed a poor recruiting tactic when asking a student athlete:  "Do you like white women?  Because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they love football players."  

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Now before people clutch their pearls, my objection to that statement is less the sexual aspect than the racial one.  Had he said "do you like pretty women?" the question would seem, prima facie, innocuous--if we are to grant the benefit of the doubt he did not know of any crime at that time.  The fact is that at any college there are women, and women like athletes, and anyone who denies that is lying through both orifices.  

He may have said something gross, on its face.  Not exactly the same as doing the unconscionable. 

Nor, do I contend, is his support for his father unwarranted.  Art Briles' negligence (at best) of his responsibility was/is unconscionable, but the love and loyalty of a son is understandable, even if misguided.  I hope that we have not reached the point in which our demands for social justice are so inflexible that we will condemn even those who support the nearest and dearest to them.  

It is perfectly possible Kendal Briles had no idea of the extent of sexual abuse in his midst, that he was perfectly ignorant of it.  

And I still think TCU would be wiser not to hire him.  The relevant factors: 

While I don't condemn him for supporting his father, I do condemn his failure to express publicly so much as a word of sympathy for the victims of his players.  Even if loyalty to his father were to forbid his conscience from denouncing the program, he could have said "I am very sorry that happened, truly sorry and will work in the future to ensure such a thing never happens again" and, more, proved it.  

Further, the feelings of TCU's student population should be considered.  And this is not merely a matter of optics.  Any student who has been victimized by sexual assault will look at the hiring of Briles and feel that our athletic program and administrators prioritize a winning team over their dignity.  That is a substantial reality.  And even if Briles himself cannot be implicated in the wickedness that prevailed at Baylor, nor can he be credited with any amount of preventing it, nor healing after it.  And, it seems to me, to be a representative of an institution of higher learning that prides itself on "educating individuals to think and act like ethical leaders in the global community" requires leading by example--otherwise, the mission statement is not only meaningless but in fact incriminating.  And nothing I've seen or heard from Briles suggests that he has made any effort to make right what was so egregiously wrong.  

TCU is not just another school.  We don't just try to win games.  There is a broad cynicism quickly poisoning college athletics, in which the only good is winning, a good that must be pursued at all costs.  Not my school.  Kendal Briles is a perfectly effective coach and is employable at other universities, universities that don't purport to be above such cold calculations.  TCU should not be one of them. 

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