Mac Engel

Baylor’s truth won’t be known for several years

Former Baylor football coach Art Briles was fired by the school in May of 2016. He has accepted a job to be the new head football coach at Mt. Vernon High School in Mt. Vernon, Texas.
Former Baylor football coach Art Briles was fired by the school in May of 2016. He has accepted a job to be the new head football coach at Mt. Vernon High School in Mt. Vernon, Texas. AP

When writing a book on the rape scandal at Baylor University, the authors successfully reached the last person you would think would want to participate in the project.

Former football coach Art Briles actually wanted to talk to co-author Paula Lavigne, the ESPN reporter whose work had a significant impact on his career.

She sent him a list of questions to his new attorney, the powerful Mark Lanier out of Houston. The first indication was that Briles would indeed answer the reporter’s questions, but he had to check with Baylor for permission. Briles and Baylor reached a contract settlement last year.

“They would not allow him to talk,” said Mark Schlabach, the ESPN reporter who co-wrote “Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis.”

Understandably, this is one of the few components missing from the book, which is not going over too well in Waco these days.

The 320-page book is an effective reconstruction of the events that eventually saw the derailment of a school and several prominent careers. It’s not popular with many of the people at Baylor, who are fatigued from this story. But it’s a true portrayal of events and worth your time.

But did Baylor and Briles learn anything from this fiasco of failed leadership? It will require time to know for sure, a foundational shift for both, and whether the coach will ever be extended a second chance to prove it.

“Time will tell and it’s only fair to say that Baylor officials have acknowledged they did things wrong, that they could have done a lot of things better and they have outlined many steps they are going to take,” Lavigne said. “They admitted a lot, and there are tangible changes to increasing the number of counselors, more training for their employees.

“It’s fair to say this is an attitude change and a culture change. That’s not just a box you can check off. That’s the hope for the end result, so it will need to be revisited.”

The initial results were good from a PR standpoint, and then Monday came. According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, a new Title IX lawsuit was filed on Monday against the school from a plaintiff who contends she was assaulted in April 2017 and that the school tried to tilt the blame away from the perpetrator.

If you lost count, that is five active Title IX lawsuits against the school, and eight overall.

Amid the many complaints lobbed at Baylor, one of the biggest is the antiquated stance that the school held toward the behavior of today’s college kids. This is not 1950s Americana. College kids drink. A lot. They have sex. A lot. And also: That rape happens.

These things still occur if you fail to acknowledge their existence. That’s just denial.

Some members of the Baylor board admitted to the authors that this thinking must change at the university so that the next time a victim of sexual assault comes forward she will not be minimized or ignored.

The school has spent millions of dollars to upgrade part of their campus. But no amount of money can update the mindset.

“You had a lot women who were in pain and didn’t know how to get help for that and, in some sense, felt that it was their fault. They were out of luck,” Lavigne said. “It’s a matter of acknowledging this pain and struggle; confronting this anxiety (for a victim) goes on for weeks, months and years. It changes them as people.

“That’s the part that the schools are not realizing and addressing. That’s what is keeping (a victim) out of class and causing them to drop out. That’s what is preventing them from pursuing the original dreams they had. It goes so far beyond the night, or day, in question to this pain they are going to have to live with, and that’s where the school can step in.”

To be sure, Lavigne noted this is just not a Baylor problem. The difference at Baylor was how the school just did nothing about it.

As for Briles, his lawyer, Lanier, told the Waco Tribune-Herald last week that he expects his client to return to coaching in 2018. Lanier said Briles wanted some of the legal proceedings to run their course before he tried to go back to work.

The highest-profile case remaining against Baylor and Briles, filed by Jasmin Hernandez, was settled last week.

This book will not help Briles in his attempt to return to coaching. It paints him as completely indifferent to discipline.

“Once Baylor had a taste of success, they basically turned the entire program over to Briles,” Schlabach said. “He had complete control. I think he could get any (student) in he wanted. He had complete control over drug testing. I think he had complete control over player discipline.

“With Art, and the renegade attitude and success he had in Texas high school football, he could attract players. And they were not going to be under as much scrutiny.”

The book details that the program had no drug testing for its players, some of whom who took to social media to refute.

It’s that type of detail that fried Briles. While he could be manic about game plans, the rest of the details were just specifics he simply did not want to address. They bored him. So he ignored those details, whatever they were, or delegated those hassles to an assistant whose priority was to ensure that his boss did not have to deal with it.

The same could be said of Baylor.

We won’t know for man years if the school or the coach learned from this fiasco.

We won’t know until a victim comes forward to a Baylor administrator. And we won’t about Briles until he is given a second chance, which may never come.

Those will be additional chapters.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

Author appearances

Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach, co-authors of “Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis,” will be at the Books-A-Million at Grapevine Mills Mall in Grapevine from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

They will be participating in a town hall discussion at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28 at Paul Quinn College, 3837 Stuart Simpson Road, Dallas.

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