A Little Background Information…
This is one of the moments when writing about current events in college football takes a very dark turn. These dark turns seem to be happening entirely too often lately. So often that it pains me to be a football fan, at times.
I love football and I have for years. I deeply respect and appreciate the hard work and dedication that teams and their staff put into every season. This is where things get complicated.
I also love feeling protected by university and local law enforcement. I love people, both athletes and otherwise, being held accountable for their actions. I love the idea of justice being served regardless of how important an alleged assailant is to an institution’s success. In light of recent events at Baylor University, I find one version of myself at odds with a different version of myself.
As a victim of sexual assault myself, I simply cannot stand by and support, or even respect, an institution or a coach that seems to allow sexual violence. I cannot support a team whose players have been allowed to disregard the safety of the women around them. I can, however, support a Board of Regents that steps up and takes action to investigate this hostile environment their athletic department may have created.
I might add that I am in no way saying any particular individual is completely at fault in this situation. Truthfully, we may never know who is most to blame here, but any silent bystander is guilty enough to be held accountable in a situation like this. This is especially true when that silent bystander is responsible for a team of athletes who clearly were not held to the standards they should have been.
Whether or not Baylor University head coach Art Briles is directly involved in any Title IX violation is not something the public has been made aware of. What we can seem to gather from the findings of fact report from the Pepper Hamilton law firm is that somebody in a position of leadership needs to be held accountable for what happened at Baylor University.
Ken Starr is no longer Baylor’s president. Initially, he remained with the school as chancellor, but he has now resigned altogether, staying on only as a professor. Athletic Director Ian McCaw resigned almost immediately after the hiring of a new head coach. Head football coach Art Briles is no longer part of the staff at the university in any form.
It seems to some that Ken Starr may have caught a break while Art Briles got the short end of the stick. In the end, Starr was smart enough to remove himself from the situation. With Athletic Director Ian McCaw resigning just a couple days ago, the program is now getting a much-needed total overhaul.
Art Briles’ Daughter Said What?
Art Briles’ daughter, Staley Lebby, was quick to defend her father on social media, making it clear she thought he didn’t deserve to lose his job. She referred to this situation as a “media witch hunt” and voiced overwhelming disappointment with the way the university handled the situation. I have a lot of things to say in response to what Staley Lebby posted.
First of all, this was not just some nosy reporter finding out about one incident of sexual assault that went unreported. This was not just a media witch hunt, even if the media did run with the scandalous story. This was an independent law firm doing an in-depth investigation into years of Title IX violations, many of which seem to have involved the football program. Since Briles is the head of said football program, he is the one who is held accountable for how his team is disciplined. And in this case, it has become clear that his team was not disciplined well at all.
Second, how is a failure to properly implement Title IX for years an issue that can be blown out of proportion? Victims of sexual assault go through so many different types of pain and agony, all of which are made worse when justice does not prevail. Is their pain less important than football? Is ignoring their well-being and not taking steps to prevent future violent incidents against women something that can truly ever be blown out of proportion? If one of your friends were a victim, would you be able to say the same thing? Would you tell your friend that the coach’s firing for standing by while his player got away with assaulting her was due to things being blown out of proportion?
Third, Lebby talks about how her father resurrected the program and alludes to this fact as being a reason to fight to keep him. I get it, Briles has been a blessing for the football program as far as success on the field goes. But, does that success on Saturdays even matter when you’re failing the women of the Baylor community? When you’re allowing young men to avoid facing the consequences of violent (illegal) actions, are you truly winning? Where are the football fans who are fathers of daughters that attend classes at Baylor? Those are the kinds of people that should realize his success on the field couldn’t possibly outweigh the safety of the women on campus.
Fourth, Briles’ daughter says Baylor took the “easy way out” in this situation. I may be wrong, but is firing the coach you say has resurrected the football program really easy for them? Not only do they have to explain the decision to get rid of the man responsible for creating a winning atmosphere, they have to replace him as well. If they don’t win without him then things definitely won’t be easy for the administration. Firing such a successful coach for a situation that has yet to be completely revealed to the public is not really the easy way out.
Last, Lebby ends her post by saying that Baylor “did the unthinkable to one that matters most.” You know what “the unthinkable” is to me? Allowing young men to get away with crimes against young women and continue on with their lives like nothing happened. These victims will never be able to go on with their lives the same way. They will never be able to watch another football game, during which the fans are praising their assailant’s name. They will never feel safe on their own campus. That is unthinkable. Firing a man who stood by while this happened on his football team? That makes sense. That is “thinkable.”
Maybe, Briles didn’t do anything directly wrong, we don’t truly know. He did, however, stand by while serious wrongs were committed in his program, wrongs that are actually unthinkable. Some of these wrongs, like those of the transfer athletes he accepted despite their questionable pasts, could have been prevented.
At the End of the Day Baylor Did the Right Thing…
I can try to put myself in Staley Lebby’s shoes here, and if I do then I understand being upset. My dad losing his job after pulling his company from the brink of bankruptcy would upset me, too. (If he had allowed all kinds of tax fraud in the process, though, things might be different.)
What I still don’t understand about Lebby’s post is what else she thinks there was for the university to do in this situation? At this point, all of the members of the leadership have either lost their jobs or resigned. Even if Briles had not been fired last week, he probably would have been forced to join the resigning parade by now.
A winning chapter in Art Briles’ career may have ended, but this doesn’t have to be the end of his football story, by any means. When the entire situation comes to light (like Lebby assures the public it will), then the court of public opinion may offer a new judgment. With what we know now, it is clear that the leadership for the football team, the athletic department, and the university itself should all be held accountable in a way different from how they disciplined their players. With the current information, firing Briles was definitely the right thing to do. Hiring Jim Grobe to replace him? Now that’s a different story.
This is obviously a subject I speak very passionately about, as a sexual assault survivor and as a fan of the game. Feel free to respectfully reach out to me with any opinions to add on Twitter by following @OGKristenB!
Picture from Wikimedia user Djyueng.