It does not matter what Ken Starr says, or how he may say it, people are going to kill him. The same for Art Briles and Ian McCaw.
Every phrase will be dissected, and any statement interpreted as insensitive.
There is no PR path these men can follow or crisis consultant who can change the growing perception that they are the faces of the Baylor rape scandal.
One of the main criticisms of Baylor since last August when the rape scandal broke was the down-the-line “no comments” from the leadership, specifically the trio of Starr, Briles and McCaw.
As the blade of bad news continued to be drawn across Baylor’s main artery, the most the school said were issued via vanilla press releases. No one ever addressed the bad news head on, which made Starr, Briles and McCaw appear like unfeeling, stone-walling fools. The conduit of Baylor’s compassion was a piece of paper or an email.
However the three men felt, and whatever compassion they desired to convey, they were muzzled by their bosses, who were heavily influenced by their lawyers.
Now that they are out of their jobs, Starr and Briles are talking.
Starr spoke to me on Thursday. One week after he was fired, Briles released a statement to KWTX news in Waco and ESPN’s Mike and Mike:
He admitted making mistakes and said, “I hope to share with you what I was aware of as soon as I can so Baylor Nation can begin the healing process.”
“After 38 years of coaching, I have certainly made mistakes, and, in hindsight, I would have done certain things differently. I always strive to be a better coach, a better father and husband, and a better person,” Briles said.
“My heart goes out to the victims for the pain that they have endured. Sexual assault has no place on our campus or in our society. As a father of two daughters, a grandfather, and a husband, my prayers are with the victims of abuse, wherever they are.”
Briles and Starr are clearly irate at the Baylor board of regents; this is the nameless group of individuals who fired Briles as coach, fired Starr as president and enacted the no-comment policy that was a disaster both in design and in execution.
Baylor is no different from most private schools — there is a dysfunctional level of micro-management from a self-serving board that throws around its weight and routinely undercuts leadership secure in the knowledge no one has a clue as to who they are.
The board embraced a policy that is entirely about potential litigation over the needs and concerns of its students, faculty, alums and concerned parents. The plan is based on fear and was heavily swayed by lawyers who are trying to minimize the damage from civil settlements that are going to cost the school millions of dollars.
Baylor is braced for more lawsuits, which is the biggest reason that it will not release the entire Pepper Hamilton report of the athletic department.
The silence policy hung the leaders out and painted them as inept, tone deaf and uncaring. It allowed people such as myself to draw conclusions because Baylor refused to help to construct an alternative narrative.
Meanwhile, the men and women who comprise the board could proceed with no potential damage to their professional reputations — it’s not their faces on school, the athletic department or the football team.
Whatever your thoughts are on Ken Starr, this is not a dumb man and he knows rhetoric. While there was no way to win a situation like this, he had the oratorical skills to represent Baylor in a respectful and professional manner from the beginning.
As the school president, he should have been trusted with that responsibility. Why have a university president and not use him as a spokesman for the entire school — that’s part of his job.
Could Briles and or Starr have lobbied the board to make statements of their own during this process? Given the power and stature of both, yes. Briles could have done whatever he wanted but given his background he likely was easily convinced to say nothing.
There was little they could have said that would have satisfied everybody, but at a minimum a more visible presence would have been to have a dialogue with Baylor students, faculty and alums who were left to wonder what was happening.
As the leaders at Baylor who presided during this fiasco, this is on Starr, Briles and McCaw and they know it. They must be held accountable and they have to go down because that is how these things work.
But their faceless, obscure superiors did them no favors and they share a degree of accountability as well.
The Baylor board neutered Starr, McCaw and Briles and made a terrible situation worse for the entire university.