Sunday, January 03, 2016

Baylor settles with sexual assault victim

Baylor University has made an undisclosed settlement with a student who was raped by a former football player. Sadly, this is no longer an unusual situation. We have not been writing about all the lawsuits and complaints filed, in part because we do not hear about all of them. This Baylor case just came to my attention with the news of the settlement. I write about it for two main reasons. One, it involves a transfer athlete who was dismissed from his previous institution most likely for reasons related to violence against women. Second, the settlement comes after a successful criminal conviction of the athlete for sexual assault.

The latter: football player (he never played a game, actually, but was on the roster), Sam Ukwuachu, was found guilty of sexual assault in August. Sexual assault convictions are difficult to get. None of the articles I have seen detail what evidence was put forth that was so compelling, but apparently it was not good enough for Baylor which, after its own investigation, chose not to discipline Ukwuachu. The school's investigation consisted of 4 interviews: victim, accused, and a friend of each. Though the victim went to the hospital after the attack, which occurred in October of 2013, had a rape kit done and spoke to the police, none of this evidence was considered by the investigative team. The investigation was so controversial that the defense was not allowed to reference it during trial. 

Though criminal charges were still pending, a member of the Baylor coaching staff said they expected Ukwuachu to play in 2015 and patted themselves on the back for handling everything so well.

Head coach Art Briles said the same month his player was convicted: “We’ve sat back and waited for it all to take shape and see what the outcome is. So, I like the way we’ve handled it as a university, an athletic department and a football program.”

Baylor will still undergo an OCR investigation for its handling of sexual assault complaints. 
In short, the school's investigation, which requires a lower burden of proof, found Ukwuachu not responsible. A criminal court, where so may rape cases do not even make it because prosecutors do not feel they can convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt given the evidence and testimony, found him guilty. 

Even in reporting the conviction and now the settlement, the media focus remains on what Baylor knew about Ukwuachu's past. Originally recruited and attending Boise State, Ukwuachu was dismissed from that team and left Boise in May 2013--to attend Baylor. Briles says the former BSU coach Chris Petersen did not mention the allegations of domestic violence against the player which involved a romantic partner. Petersen claims that he did indeed discuss these things. Boise State issued an official statement saying that Ukwuachu's dismissal had nothing to do with violence against any women. Adding to the allegations, innuendos, and incomplete stories is the fact that former Florida head coach would "not touch" the player because of the rumors about his behavior. Interestingly, the SEC, which Florida is a part, will not admit student-athlete transfers with records of violence--though this rule was not in place at the time.

The question that remains for me is who will investigate these he-said, he-saids and who in the administration, including the athletic department, knew what--and when. Will OCR look into it when they go to campus for their investigation? Does the NCAA care anything at all about this pattern of passing players with records from one institution to another? The policy around transfer athletes should be part of a school's sexual assault policies and procedures. Keeping athletics as tuns on their own bottoms has proven to be harmful, and it is time to stop viewing them, their leaders, and their student-athletes as distant and/or distinct entities.