It’s difficult to know exactly what to make of the scandal that has rocked Baylor University — except that the only thing sports media and pundits love more than watching a football powerhouse rise is watching one collapse.
Last August, after allegations of sexual misconduct involving students, some of them athletes, Baylor engaged the law firm Pepper Hamilton “to conduct an independent and external review” of the school’s “institutional response to Title IX and related compliance issues.”
Title IX is the anti-gender discrimination statute interpreted by the Department of Education to cover sexual assault at academic institutions.
The review by Pepper Hamilton was given to the school’s board of regents in late May; its scope was extensive, its findings damning and its implications devastating.
To much dismay but perhaps little surprise, the athletic department in particular was faulted for its failure to respond to allegations of assault and failure to report the allegations to the appropriate administrators outside the department.
In the immediate aftermath, news media have been quick to lambast the school and its leadership; high-level officials including the athletic director and beloved football coach Art Briles have already been removed.
Indeed, if the facts are as serious as we have been led to believe, such actions, coupled with other corrective measures, seem entirely appropriate.
The problem is, the actual facts that have entered the public domain are sparse and largely generalized in a 13-page summary.
At this point, it seems much of what has been reported as fact is based on speculation — a reality that compelled Ken Starr, who was demoted from Baylor president to chancellor, to resign the latter position as well.
Even if we were to stipulate that Baylor is guilty of every policy failure that has been alleged, such failures are evidence of another significant problem: Universities are not the appropriate venues to adjudicate allegations of sexual assault.
Ashe Schow, a reporter for the Washington Examiner, makes this point clearly when she writes that the danger of over-correction is already evident in Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations, “with the word ‘complainant’ from the report being replaced with ‘victim,’ because that is how Baylor now has to think: Every accuser is automatically a victim before any investigation takes place.”
As I’ve cautioned before, the public has so fully embraced the myth that our universities promote a “culture of rape” that it is willing to ignore any evidence to the contrary.
There are numerous cases of universities adopting policies that automatically assume the guilt of the accused, expelling young men from school without a conviction or even a charge brought against them in an actual court of law.
California has even passed an “affirmative consent” law that broadly redefines the legal definition of rape on campus, making it much easier to “convict” a student of an alleged crime.
Such policies may be intended to correct past injustices, but they only serve to shift the injustice from one party to another.
In the case of Baylor, we know that two football players were indicted and convicted of sexual assault in a court of law — where cases of sexual violence should be handled. Only the justice system can appropriately adjudicate such crimes.
While I am skeptical about the “culture of rape” and will reserve further judgment of Baylor until the facts are released in full, I am sympathetic to the notion that athletes are often the subjects of sexual violence allegations and are too often shielded from any punishment.
And while the media — especially ESPN and its industry peers — are quick to assign blame to university hierarchy, they are just as guilty of creating a culture in which football stars are untouchable.
I’ve watched enough College GameDay to know that in a world where football is king and winning is everything, these young men are reinforced with a false sense they can act without consequence.
So while a rabid sports media eagerly watches Baylor self-destruct, it might benefit from some self-reflection as to how it has fed the beast.