GIVEN THE heightened attention sexual assault on college campuses has received lately, it's reasonable to expect that sports programs would change the way they handle rape accusations against athletes. The news out of Baylor last week indicates that, too often, keeping a star football player on the team remains more important than protecting victims of sexual assault.
Sam Ukwuachu, who had been a freshman All-America defensive end at Boise State three seasons ago, transferred to Baylor in spring 2013 despite a troubling history that reportedly included a domestic violence incident for which he was dismissed from the team. In October 2013, while Ukwuachu was sitting out as a transfer, he was accused of sexual assault by a player on Baylor's women's soccer team. Last week he was convicted of one count of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in prison, 400 hours of community service and 10 years of probation. Baylor's only official explanation for Ukwuachu's absence from the team had been that he was taking time to deal with "some issues," as defensive coordinator Phil Bennett put it. As of June, Bennett said he expected Ukwuachu "to be eligible in July."
Since the story was reported in Texas Monthly, the focus on the case has centered on the finger-pointing between coaches over what coach Art Briles knew when Ukwuachu transferred. While important in determining Baylor's liability in putting female students at risk, this should not be allowed to obscure the shortcomings of Baylor's response to the sexual assault. The school did not remove Ukwuachu from the classes and tutoring sessions he shared with the victim; the woman transferred from Baylor after the 2013--14 academic year. The team seems to have viewed the assault as an inconvenience, a pothole on Baylor's road to reaching the College Football Playoff. Even after Ukwuachu's indictment, he was still part of the team's plans.
Baylor's actions are all too common. Until institutions recognize sexual assault as a serious crime, they must try to prevent, rather than a public relations disaster to be brushed under the rug, true progress on this front will remain excruciatingly slow.