Friday, May 27, 2016

What happened at Baylor

News broke yesterday, after several days of rumors about who was being fired and when, that football coach Art Briles would no longer be coaching the men's football team at Baylor University and that Ken Starr had been relieved of his duties as university president, had been "demoted" to chancellor,  and remains on faculty at the law school. The athletic director has been placed on probation. This is all in the wake of the university-commissioned report to look into the accusations that the school had mishandled many reports of sexual assault committed by male students. Most of the accusations were against football players, some of whom had actually been taken to criminal court and are serving jail time, but have never been reprimanded by the school.

The school hired an outside law firm to conduct the investigation last fall when the years of cover-ups became more public due to an ESPN Outside the Lines report and the filing of a lawsuit by several female victims. It found, just like OTL and other media outlets had found, a large cover-up of the assaults.

So here are my thoughts, in no particular order.  I focus on the culture at Baylor that created this situation and less on the legal and procedural aspects of this scandal.

1. Ken Starr being demoted to Chancellor is not enough. Starr's history certainly suggests that he is capable of investigating sexual relationships and he admitted publicly that he failed in his duties as president. He even apologized to victims. This does not mean he deserves a leadership position. In fact, keeping him as a chancellor calls into question Baylor's commitment to changing the culture on their campus. Starr was the guy who helped create that culture.

2. Several news outlets have posed the question: why haven't things changed yet and/or will this be the watershed moment? I do not predict watershed moments anymore or cite current scandals as turning points, because I have been so wrong before. I swore that FSU/Winston was going to be that turning point for reasons I will not detail here. I was confident--and wrong. Baylor is taking responsibility (after a lot of silence), but it remains to be seen how they will fare if/when the NCAA comes to investigate or in the court of public opinion, or in real court. (See #6) Baylor is not the only school under investigation or facing a lawsuit. This news has not drawn Tennessee administrators out of their offices to admit wrongdoing or resulted in anyone being fired today at any of the other schools under investigation.

The better question is why hasn't there been a turning point already? Why wasn't FSU that moment? Or Oregon? Or Colorado? Or New Mexico? Or any of the other many, many cases of student athletes committing sexual assault?

3. Dear members of the board of regents who are so shocked at the findings of the report: You are responsible for this too. No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors or at alumni/donor functions where coaches and trustees and presidents mingle and attempt to raise money for their team school. But trustees like winning football teams because they think they brings in dollars and they make that known to university leaders who make it known to coaches. The looking the other away--or the pushing away--when problems that impede this arrangement arise may be a little more deliberate within athletic departments than in the trustee board room, but trustees would be naive to think that the desire they exude for a successful athletics program does not have consequences. Consequences that cannot be entirely placed on the moral failings (in addition to the illegalities) of those whose contracts they approve. So more faire, less laissez (sorry francophiles).

4. Dear ESPN and other sport media outlets: Perhaps we should dwell on this story a little bit longer, engage in a little more introspection. Maybe about the ways in which sports media cover sexual assault and elevate college students who play football to celebrity status? It's too soon to furrow the brow and rub the chin wondering who will be taking over for Briles and lamenting about how Baylor football was just beginning to get good again. Also, don't forget that the rebuilding was necessary because of a 2003 scandal in which a basketball player killed a teammate and the subsequent revelations about the dysfunctional athletic department.    

5. The comparisons to Penn State have been interesting and go back to the questions about why things have not changed. How could Baylor happen in a post-Penn State world?

Because Penn State was about a grown white man preying on young, vulnerable boys. People are far more disgusted and appalled by this version of a sexual predator (because of age and homosexual acts) than they are by college-age men raping college-age women.

Because there is a hierarchy and male-on-male pedophilia outranks--by far--men raping women in American culture. Maintenance of this hierarchy involves downplaying the latter by 1) not calling it rape and 2) vilifying victims. According to the report, Baylor engaged in the latter itself when it retaliated against a victim who came forward.

Because Penn State was seen as an anomaly and not as a cost of the culture of American intercollegiate sports. That is what these two cases have in common: the cover-ups and denials in order to maintain a successful athletics program. But that commonality is not something most of American society chooses to see, and that is why Penn State is not a watershed moment and arguably why there has been not been a turning point. 

6. Breaking my own rule about not commenting on the legal side of this scandal: I imagine that a settlement is forthcoming in the lawsuit brought by women who were victims of assault. The question is whether the terms of that settlement will be made public. If Baylor really is all about contrition and change, then they will not place a gag order on those involved.