Cynthia M. Allen

In Baylor sexual assault scandal, facts are a victim

Current and former Baylor students hold a rally this month to protest sexual assaults on and off the Waco campus.
Current and former Baylor students hold a rally this month to protest sexual assaults on and off the Waco campus. Waco Tribune Herald via AP

There seems to be only one acceptable response to the sexual assault scandal still tearing through Baylor University and the Waco community: Hang them all.

That’s somewhat understandable in the wake of allegations that football players who were suspected of, and in some cases charged, with physical and sexual assault, were systematically protected by coaches and administrators so they could remain on the team.

There has been a steady stream of new accusations and complainants.

As with any scandal of this nature, truth has become a victim as well.

Unless and until the board of regents releases what it claims is a thorough and comprehensive accounting of the facts, a veil of doubt and suspicion will continue to shroud a community attempting to recover.

Fortunately, the calls to release the full details of the Pepper Hamilton investigation have increased in number and decibel level.

But there’s a cognitive dissonance in some of the recent cries for justice.

For example, Tuesday’s editorial from The Dallas Morning News begins by declaring that the “Baylor University regents did the right thing when they ousted President Ken Starr and head coach Art Briles,” and then chastises the board for its failure to “release detailed evidence to show that those responsible have been held accountable.”

As with so many who have rushed to convict Briles and Starr in the court of public opinion, the authors of this piece probably never considered how only after the detailed evidence is released can we know if those actually responsible have been held accountable and if others have been wrongly accused.

Presumably, that would include Briles and Starr.

On these very pages I have expressed my lack of patience for athletes who are permitted to act with impunity in the name of the great football god — especially when their alleged crimes involve assaulting women.

Indeed, I praised the actions of coaches like Charlie Strong and Gary Patterson who were swift to remove players from teams when credible evidence showed they violated team rules or were charged with lawbreaking.

In the thick of a sports-crazed culture, such leadership takes guts and ensures personal accountability on and off the field.

To its credit, Baylor has exemplified such accountability in the past.

Stories on the current fallout have not failed to mention that Baylor endured a similarly horrific scandal in its basketball program 13 years ago.

In that case, after a Baylor player was murdered by a mentally unstable teammate, evidence surfaced that head coach Dave Bliss was improperly providing tuition money and other benefits to the deceased player.

In an effort to cover up these violations, Bliss concocted a lie that the murdered player acquired the money from dealing drugs and attempted to enlist players and assistant coaches in his scheme.

The corruption ran deep and almost cost Baylor its basketball program.

Bliss, a high-profile and respected coach, justly became a pariah and disappeared.

But Baylor recovered from that scandal largely because the school conducted a thorough and transparent investigation — a fact noted by the NCAA at the time.

No such thing has happened with the current scandal.

And the absence of facts has fueled an environment already ripe for speculation and scurrilous accusations.

To wit, if you’ve recently heard Baylor referred to as a “rape factory,” you wouldn’t be the first.

And it’s exactly this kind of atmosphere that makes it impossible to separate actual victims and truly guilty parties from questionable accusations and those wrongfully implicated. Is Briles deserving of a fate like Bliss, or is he a decent man who probably made some mistakes — a category within which most college football coaches fall?

What has been made clear by the scandal is that Baylor’s policies and procedures require serious reform. It’s even reasonable to expect that some heads roll if only as a symbolic bloodletting.

But that should happen only once all the facts are made public.

Indeed, if the situation was so bad that Briles had to go, how can Baylor retain his coaching staff?

In this case, the obstruction by the board of regents may be worse than the truth, making it impossible for victims, alums and students to feel confident that Baylor has appropriately addressed the problem.

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to matter. Everyone loves a good hanging.

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