Mac Engel

Baylor’s sexual assault problem was not a football problem

Baylor University did not report any sexual assaults between 2008-11, according to the Department of Education.
Baylor University did not report any sexual assaults between 2008-11, according to the Department of Education. Star-Telegram archives

The many defenders of Baylor University routinely point to the same inescapable truth — that sexual assault and rape are not exclusive to their beloved alma mater. This is the “They do it, too!” defense.

When that tactic was used in the 1980s as other schools all over Texas routinely paid their players under the table, or in pizza boxes, it was appropriate. When it comes to rape, it’s not so cute.

And when it comes to rape cover-up, just don’t say anything because there is no defense.

The only thing Baylor people and Baylor fans should be saying is, “We are going to fix this.” Anything else and you are embarrassing yourself.

Baylor must prove it can fix this before the federal government steps in, because, at this point, it would be entitled to take its cuts.

This starts by acknowledging that, despite the sexual-assault awareness lectures given to incoming freshmen, rape still happens at their school, too. This national problem is very much a Baylor problem, too.

What we have seen to this point is that covering up sexual assault at Baylor is not isolated to its football team. This has been a Baylor University issue. According to the Department of Education, from 2008 to 2011, the school reported zero sexual assaults. This should make Baylor the front-runner to win the coveted Biggest Lie Ever Told trophy.

You can cook the books to make crime rates look pretty, but this takes denial and number manipulation to new depths. This indicates that everyone’s heads were in the sand; if they didn’t acknowledge it, then that meant nothing happened.

If you are going to cheat on a test, at least have the common sense to give yourself a few wrong answers to throw off the dogs.

From 2012 through 2014, the school reported eight cases of sex offenses and five rape cases.

Those numbers are a bit more consistent and reflective of the other major schools in Texas, which includes Texas Tech, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and SMU.

The difference is that at no point were other universities trying to sell that sexual assault didn’t happen at their school.

On Feb. 12, Baylor released a statement with a new round of administrative actions to improve an issue that has resulted in the dreaded student vigil outside the University President’s House. Ken Starr, those weren’t Girl Scouts outside your front door trying to sell you a box of Thin Mints.

In the statement, Baylor pledges to dedicate more counseling and support of victims and to “address the needs” of students who prompt a Title IX investigation.

This came one day after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office sided with the Baylor police department to keep the records of five sexual assault cases sealed; an open records request had been made by The Associated Press for the cases involving the former Baylor football players — Sam Ukwuachu and Tevin Elliott — who were convicted of raping Baylor female students.

This decision qualifies as the Baylor football program’s biggest win of 2016, and should make up for the disappointing loss at TCU back in November.

Thus far, all of the actions Baylor has taken on this issue, which includes the hiring of Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate the matter, have been the school’s initiatives.

And as long as Baylor’s plans are good-faith efforts, no one from the outside will be called in.

However ...

“The Department of Education could investigate if someone files a complaint,” said Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, counsel for the National Women’s Law Center in Washington.

Yeah, Baylor. You don’t want this. Nothing good happens when the feds get the call. Starr knows this.

“If this is not a good-faith effort, there is recourse for students who feel like they were not provided an equal opportunity to be counseled and to remain at that institution,” Onyeka-Crawford said.

Even if it is woefully late, Baylor’s efforts appear to be in good faith. It can’t do anything about what is done but it can try to put measures in place to ensure such shameful inaction won’t occur again. Sexual assault and rape happen all over the country, and the dumbest thing to do is to deny those realities.

It’s a complicated, complex problem with few black and white answers. That doesn’t mean it does not happen.

It would help if Starr made himself available to talk to his students and the moms and dads who pay the tuition rather than just issuing some austere press releases. The lawyer in Starr has him locked in his office, reluctant to say anything that another attorney would use to implicate himself or his friends in a civil suit.

I have put in an interview request to talk to Starr, but I am not holding my breath.

The school has not said when the report from Pepper Hamilton will be released; when those “findings” are released, you can bet the Department of Education will then decide if a chat is required with Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw and Baylor head football coach Art Briles.

Until then, Baylor needs to continue to try to play catch-up and its fans need to drop the “They do it, too!” defense.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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