clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Lessons for Texas from the Baylor scandal

New, 294 comments

This isn't a time for gloating -- it's a time for introspection and doing everything possible to ensure that sexual assaults don't happen to Longhorns.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma State Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Just over 100 miles north of Austin, the New Baylor of which now-former head football coach Art Briles was the primary architect crumbled on Thursday like his old home at Floyd Casey Stadium did only 13 days ago.

It's an image that looks even more fitting now -- the public facade of a program imploding and crashing back down to the ground from which it once sprung.

The truth is that the incredible institutional breakdowns that happened in Waco are specific to and were enabled by the so-called "Baylor Bubble," an insular community incapable of conceiving of sexual violence at the Baptist enclave, with a variety of constituents unwilling to hold anyone else accountable.

However, that doesn't mean that the lessons from the Baylor scandal aren't applicable to Texas and every other university in the country.

At the worst, outrage from Texas fans is can easily take on the appearance of the self-serving feelings of a football power fallen on hard times, jealous of the upstart program just to the north.

But at best, the failings of Baylor University and the entire Waco community, from the administration to the police to the press to the fans, serves as a reminder of the vigilance that is necessary at every institution to ensure the level of accountability that didn't exist in that bubble.

So let's talk about what Longhorns can learn from this terrible tragedy.

Sexual assault is an epidemic on college campuses

For the most crass Baylor fans on social media, the best way of deflecting from the increasingly horrific events at Baylor and lack of response from the administration was to point to a recent study that showed a disturbingly high rate of sexual assault on the Texas campus.

The argument, apparently, is that the actions of the Texas student body that mirror the reprehensible actions of an unusually high number of football players at Baylor somehow equates to the institutional malfeasance at every level of the Waco community. No. Those things do not equate.

While those claims are ludicrous in a number of ways that don't require further consideration here, there is an underlying point -- even if the Texas administration doesn't cover up instances of sexual assault by football players, it's still a tremendous issue.

Texas is already responding to the epidemic

Other than complying with Title IX requirements by staffing the type of dedicated department Baylor somehow failed to create for years, University of Texas system chancellor Bill McRaven launched the "largest and most comprehensive study of campus sexual assaults ever conducted."

Started last September, the study will cost $1.7 million in lieu of participating in a similar AAU study that administrators felt wouldn't be adequate.

After witnessing widespread sexual assault issues in the military, McRaven is uniquely suited to understanding the challenges that Texas faces in attempting to combat sexual violence at Texas.

“I watched as the military struggled with the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment,” McRaven told The Huffington Post. “At first we found it hard to believe there was a problem. But once we recognized the magnitude and the effect of the problem on our servicemen and women, we knew we had to move aggressively to resolve it.”

According to the AAU, 18.5 percent of female undergraduates at Texas reported being the victim of sexual assault in their time at the university, so it's not hard to recognize the problem. And while that number is lower than the national average of 23.1 percent gained by surveying 27 campuses across the country, president Greg Fenves pointed out what Baylor has claimed but clearly didn't mean.

“One sexual assault is too many,” he said last fall. “It is essential that we foster a campus that does not tolerate sexual assaults while strongly encouraging victims to come forward and report incidents. This survey is another positive step in our efforts to create a safer campus for all of our students.”

The survey commissioned by McRaven is a clear admission that Texas still has a lot of work to do, but it's also a sign that the university is pro-active in trying to make its campus more safe for female students.

Don't fall for the cult of personality

Art Briles was folksy, endearing himself to fans and media with a down-home personality that seemed to encapsulate the state of Texas. As a former high school football coach who dealt with his own family tragedy while growing up, he was both an empathetic figure and a self-made man.

If he didn't represent the American dream, he seemed like an authentic product of a state in which many residents feel an incredible amount of proud.

But just like the glorious history of Texas is much more problematic than Lone Star State patriots might want to admit, there were gnawing signs around the edges that maybe Briles wasn't the man that he made himself out to be.

There were rumors about doing whatever it takes to win at Stephenville, whispers of paying players at Baylor, and the frequent presence of NCAA investigators on the Baylor campus looking into a host of minor violations that never added up to that much publicly, but hinted at the person that Briles was behind the scenes.

Much like a mafioso, a favorable interpretation of the Baylor scandal might hold that Briles is simply too loyal to his players, too intent on giving them second chances and making sure that he's the only one to whom they are responsible.

The reality is that as much as people thought they could know Briles from his folksy persona or apparent loyalty or ability to build the Baylor football program from nothing, the truth is that only a few people behind the scenes really know who Briles is as a person.

So when it's tempting for Texas fans to claim moral superiority by pointing to Strong's core values and willingness to dismiss players who didn't abide by his rules, the truth is that while fans believe that Strong is a fundamentally decent person who wouldn't try to cover up crimes committed by his players, fans only know the persona presented by Strong.

Perhaps Strong lacks the fundamental guile necessary to pull off the type of behavior that characterized Briles' football programs, but that's merely speculation once again based upon his public image.

Just like the average Baylor fan didn't truly know Briles, the average Texas fan does not at this time and will never truly know Strong.

Taking trouble transfers is a risky business

One of the most damning elements of the Pepper Hamilton findings was the lack of due diligence done by the Baylor staff when taking transfers who had gotten into trouble elsewhere. In fact, it seems that Briles and his coaches actively avoided gathering the information that would have protected female students at Baylor from sexual predation.

As it applies to Texas, head coach Charlie Strong supported a Big 12 transfer rule that would forbid schools from taking players with a history of violence or sexual misconduct.

"You know what, I look at it like this," Strong said last fall. "I have a player here at the University of Texas and look what he has. He has everything. He's on scholarship, he's playing at the highest level, he gets to go compete at the highest level, and everything. The facilities, the resources are here for him. Now, if he can't do what we ask him to do and if for some reason he's dismissed from this program, I don't know why he deserves a second chance to go to somewhere like Florida."

Where Briles believed in second chances to the detriment of his institution, Strong doesn't want that risk for his program.

The media has to do its job

The concept of the fourth estate dates back to the 18th century, but apparently hasn't yet made it to Waco -- the complete and total inability or unwillingness of the Baylor media to expose the misconduct of Bears football players and the university as a whole is one of the most shameful elements of the whole scandal.

To put it succinctly, the press failed in its duty of informing its constituents of the monstrous actions perpetuated and institutionalized by the university.

In order to keep the same thing from happening at Texas, the Austin media has to remain vigilant, inquisitive, and, if necessary, aggressive in pursuing the truth and exposing any malfeasance.

The stakes are too high to accept anything less than that.

Texas did the right thing two years ago

The Longhorns aren't without recent instances of alleged sexual assault and violence against women by athletes.

It's quite possible and even likely that there have been instances in the past where the school actively worked to reduce the consequences for athletes who got into trouble, as BON commenter UTDEEZY suggested on Thursday.

"Of course the fact that the players didn’t serve any time at all is ridiculous but I can remember when I roomed with one of the bench players at Texas some of the stories about how the coaching staffs helped the players get out of trouble," the commenter wrote.

One can only hope that those incidences are long in the past and no longer occur. Since Austin is a much less insular community than Waco, it's easy to assume that Texas has moved past that era, but it's hard to say that conclusively.

The biggest relief -- if it's not too crass a term in this situation -- is that the known instances of alleged sexual assault or violence were dealt with quickly.

In the summer of 2014, Texas wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were accused of a sexual assault accompanied by a truly disturbing affidavit that left me shook for the entire day. In Baltimore, at least, improvements in training and investigation tactics reduced the rate of unfounded rape claims to two percent, so it was hard to imagine that the sickening accusations against Sanders and Meander were in that range of statistical improbability.

Strong felt the same way, dismissing both players. And while Sanders was found not guilty and the charge against Meander subsequently dropped, the burden of proof for investigations into student conduct is much lower -- a preponderance of evidence rather than beyond any reasonable doubt.

By that measure, Strong did the right thing and did so quickly.

Former head basketball coach Rick Barnes had his own situation, as guard Martez Walker was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly beating his girlfriend in a campus dormitory. Based on that affidavit, it wasn't the first time. Once again, Barnes made the obvious choice of dismissing Walker.

Saying that there was a breakdown in recruiting with Sanders and Meander might be a stretch, but the apparent repeated nature of Walker's transgressions suggests that there may have been something in his past that would have revealed that seeming propensity towards violence against women.

So the Longhorns aren't above such incidences. Based on what is known about those cases, it appears that the processes in place at Texas worked, though that summer also illustrates the amount of due diligence necessary in vetting everything about the character of athletes who represent the University of Texas.

Winning can't trump all

This should be self-evident, but it wasn't for Art Briles and it wasn't for the Baylor administration, and it wasn't for the Waco Police, and it wasn't for the Waco media, and it wasn't for too many Baylor fans.

Human decency matters more than anything else. For some, football is a path to a better life. But in the end, football is just a distraction -- it's your interpersonal interactions that ring through eternity, for better or worse.

There are no winners in this

The Texas football program didn't win on Thursday with the demise of a rival coach who led his program to prominence.

There are only losers.

An untold number of females at Baylor and in the wider Waco community have had their lives ruined by these vicious attacks. They've lost a fundamental part of their humanity, as the victim of Sam Ukwuachu put in heart-rending relief:

This is not a time for gloating or schadenfreude.

It's a time for introspection and remembering that without alumni and administrators holding the university accountable and demanding a high level of transparency, the same things that happened in Waco could happen in Austin.

Facing the same issue of sexual assaults as the rest of the nation, the only thing Longhorns can do is support the victims at Baylor and the victims at Texas and do everything possible to eradicate the scourge of sexual violence.