Baylor University stepped forward in the fight for victim’s rights, dealing the first punch when it comes to valuing them over sports and football in particular. On Thursday May 26, 2016 the University’s board announced that head football coach Art Briles, a guy who believed he could save kids, had been “suspended immediately with intent to terminate according to contractual procedures.” The University released a press release admitting to the following:
- The University’s student conduct processes were wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response under Title IX; Baylor failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures; and in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence or address its effects.
- Actions by University administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.
- In addition to broader University failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence.
- There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct.
- Over the course of their review, Pepper investigated the University’s response to reports of a sexual assault involving multiple football players. The football program and Athletics department leadership failed to take appropriate action in response to these reports.
In the Fall of 2015, Baylor had contracted a Philadelphia law firm, Pepper Hamilton, LLP, to investigate Title IX complaints that had been steadily mounting. It may not be stunning that so many cases were swept under the rug by an Athletic Department and coach who was known to give football players a second chance. According to an ESPN article Briles is quoted as saying, “I think we do a good job of nurturing and giving these guys a chance to get their feet on the ground and start over.”
Briles wasn’t concerned as much about what players had done before and he made it clear when he spoke on the character of his players.
“I wanted tough guys. Guys that just had to fight and grind and work for everything that they ever earned. Someone who had to earn their respect.”
Briles may have cared about the players but it became painfully obvious from the Pepper findings that he got more wrapped up in the on-field issues than the off-field issues. In the past five seasons alone he took home two Big 12 Conference championships to Waco, Texas to go along with 50 wins. A glaring success that brought with it a $266 million dollar monument known as McLane Stadium to dazzle those second-chancers with.
When bringing in kids that need saving, it would make sense that you have to do more hand-holding before issue arise not after. The choices made by the Athletic Department to put wins above the needs of those who were assaulted are reflected by the Pepper report.
After one of the more recent sexual assault cases in recent memory involving Jameis Winston, it is refreshing to see that a University steps up to the plate and takes the lead in standing up for the victim. I can’t imagine what it was like to be the accuser in that case, no doubt she went through hell to stand up for herself in a place where football is the next best thing to religion – worship to the football gods on Saturday. In the digital age where everyone knows how to find out everything about you it can be dangerous and unforgiving to step forward and tell your story. We have seen many times that football is run on money, power and prestige and University leaders don’t want to let go when they have control of a prized pony. I can’t imagine what it was like to see the prized pony continue to run the race and win while you stand bloodied and bruised.
Yes I’m certain it can be difficult to oversee an entire football program when you are tasked to week in and week out come up with game plans as well recruit and scout the next opponent. This is however, what your job as an NCAA head football coach is. If you choose to bring in players who have a checkered past then you have to know that past and have people on your staff who deal with following the players when you can’t. I feel horrible for the victims that have for years been silenced by this program that may now finally get their chance to speak. It may not be the justice that they deserve however it is finally time that someone said that victim’s rights are more important than football.