There are too many sad elements in this tale to count, but the media has failed in the Art Briles/Baylor saga from the start.
From our inability to see some of these sexual assault allegations when they were occurring in real time at Baylor, to labeling Briles as a man who endorsed and fostered a culture of rape.
Aware of my own failings and hypocrisy on this story, I acknowledge why so many deplore my well-meaning good brothers and sisters in the media. As critical as we are to your community and a democracy, we can be a lazy judgmental pack of self-important blowhards.
As much as sports needs the media to make mortals immortal, to market a brand, and to sell tickets and move merchandise, the other side of that free air time can be an atomic bomb.
Crushing Briles and the school that recently hired him, Mount Vernon ISD, is an easy populist choice; it requires minimal effort, and it will generate rave reviews and big ratings.
I say this only because, with the exception of maybe two other people, no one has taken the time to know this sad tale more than I have.
I have read all of it. I have talked to coaches. I have spoken to victims. I have talked to Baylor administrators. I have spoken at length to high-ranking members of the Baylor Board of Regents who backed Briles, fought for him to stay, but supported the decision to fire him. I spoke to Baylor student-athletes who were there when this all happened. I spoke to coaches in the athletic department who were there.
This is an indictment on a narrative that refuses to acknowledge but one reliable trope. The narrative is out of control because we are just too lazy to accept additional details or to do any original reporting.
You don’t have to like the details, and are free to question them, but don’t deny they exist. There is more to this than 145 characters or a Search Engine Optimization headline.
In consuming the outrage at Mount Vernon’s decision, I see a consistent theme: There are no datelines on any of these reports from Waco. There have not been for years. Few people have bothered to interview anyone, or taken the time to read beyond a few paragraphs, or explore some of the allegations.
I see a rehash of a rehash. I see no attempt to acknowledge anything beyond what fits the “Coach Rape” narrative.
People believe whatever they want. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, or an opinion that makes you feel better about yourself because you were showered with confirmation from uninformed people.
SELECTIVELY BELIEVING BAYLOR HEADLINES
Not long after the original report about this fiasco was published by Texas Monthly in the fall of 2014, a friend of mine, who is a criminal attorney and a proud Baylor alum, warned me: “Give it six months. There are going to be lawyers lined up around the block at Baylor’s door.”
Took about five.
The allegations, complete with press releases designed to create a headline, overwhelmed the school. Since Baylor is a private school, the potential payouts in a court proceeding have no cap.
The one headline we keep using is the allegation of “52 rapes and five gang rapes in a four-year span” at Baylor. This case was settled out of court, and it has been accepted as fact.
If we are to believe that headline and allegation from an attorney, and so many others, we must acknowledge the other filings, claims and allegations.
We have to at least say that former Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, who had been accused of sexual assault a few months after he graduated from BU in April 2016, was found not guilty by a jury in 2019. While I would never have recruited Oakman when he transferred from Penn State because he was covered in red flags, it does not mean he is guilty of rape.
We should at least acknowledge that in May 2017, nearly one year to the day after Briles was fired and handed an $18 million check, Baylor’s general counsel, Christopher Holmes, wrote a letter on Baylor letterhead to the ex-coach.
Holmes wrote, “We are unaware of any situation where you personally had contact with anyone who directly reported to you being the victim of sexual assault or that you directly discouraged the victim of an alleged sexual assault from reporting to law enforcement or University officials. Nor are we aware of any situation where you played a student-athlete who had been found responsible for sexual assault.”
That essentially contradicts what Baylor officials deliberately leaked to The Wall Street Journal the previous year that selectively painted the football program under Briles as the problem while ignoring the larger issue, which was the university’s practices as they related to sexual assault claims.
You likely have not seen that letter beyond a few times. If that. Why include it when it hurts the narrative?
You will see none of the stories about Briles include the sworn testimony of ex-Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, or board member Phil Stewart in the current Jane Doe cases against the school.
Both men called out the Baylor board with harsh criticism; Stewart went so far as to say the investigation of the athletic department by the law firm of Pepper Hamilton was “orchestrated, staged to achieve desired results” to fire Briles.
One board member told me that another board member suggested to create an NCAA violation so the school would not have to pay Briles’ buyout.
The latest court filing came last week, as part of the 10 Jane Doe cases against Baylor. The plaintiff has no incentive to play favorites among school officials.
The latest allegation stated, among other things, that Baylor has consistently created a “false narrative that failures were entirely sports-related, rather than broader culpability within Regents and Senior Administrators.”
Probably have not read that one, either.
MEDIA’S ROLE IN BAYLOR’S MESS
Briles is no victim. Neither is former BU president Ken Starr, nor is McCaw. To suggest they are is offensive. They are professional leaders who accepted a check, and agreed to a provision in their buyouts that stipulates they would not publicly disparage Baylor University. That’s on them.
The victims are the young adults at Baylor University who went to the actual adults to ask for help, but had their pain and hurt ignored, or suppressed. They will always be the victims, and no one else.
Baylor was justified in firing Briles; even his staunchest supporters said discipline was not his strength.
From a football standpoint, he gambled on too many transfers; before the NCAA created the transfer portal, if a good player was transferring, there was a reason. And it was seldom good.
Baylor had a problem in every room in its house, including the front porch, on which Briles stood. If college athletics is the “front porch” to your school, and you have the same problem there as you do in every other room, fire up the leaf blower.
Because BU had so many powerful people pushing multiple agendas, there was no one central narrative of error, or reform. The school operated in a state of panic and was as transparent as tar.
Kids were hurt, and the adults failed.
So did the media, of which I am a proud member. We fell in love with the narrative, because it has so many reliable components and is such an easy sell.
Feel free to hate Briles and the rest of BU, but try to learn more than 145 characters on the subject.
Calling a guy a bad coach is one thing.
Suggesting a guy condoned or covered up rape is quite another.