True or not, the 39-page legal response of three key Baylor University regents to fired BU assistant athletics director Colin Shillinglaw’s defamation suit offers a blistering indictment of the Baylor football program under then-head football coach Art Briles and then-athletics director Ian McCaw. It comes complete with instances of when and how they and Shillinglaw allegedly conspired to keep secret those complaints of sexual assault, drug use and more whenever players were involved.
While Shillinglaw’s attorney termed the legal response “quite unorthodox,” the regents’ late Thursday filing is comprehensive in detailing sins of subterfuge and skullduggery in Baylor’s athletics department, at the time reveling in the limelight of the stellar football program’s on-field success. The filing cites text messages by athletics staffers, either expressing satisfaction that they had avoided allegations being forwarded to Baylor administrative higher-ups or frustration at the various decisions of assault victims.
But in reading this tersely worded legal defense, one also can’t help wondering if regents might have saved the Baylor family (including alumni and faculty), the surrounding Waco community and a lot of others plenty of grief, bad publicity, in-fighting and legal somersaults had they included some of this detail in their original “Findings of Fact,” issued when they demoted Baylor President Ken Starr, sanctioned McCaw and fired Briles in May.
“In declining to engage with the Baylor community and the media following the announcements in May 2016, the board unwittingly seeded an outcry among Baylor’s constituencies, including some of Baylor’s most ardent supporters,” the regents now acknowledge. “Some, including Briles loyalists, have used the silence as an opportunity to question the quality and objectivity of [the] Pepper Hamilton [law firm]’s investigation [of sexual assaults]. Supporters of the Briles regime began propagating an inaccurate and self-serving picture of what had occurred.”
That one statement may well signal the far greater truth in all this as well as the consequences when leadership is not more forthright in such matters. Baylor regents have repeatedly claimed that releasing anymore than they did on May 26 with their “Findings of Fact” and accompanying 105 recommendations for Title IX campus reforms might somehow compromise or threaten the privacy of student victims.
Yet here is a filing that answers questions with which Briles fans in particular have battered Baylor leadership for months, in the process further undermining not only the university’s Christian mission but stealing the spotlight from the many good works that underline it, such as last Monday’s $2.5 million gift from Bob and Laura Beauchamp of Houston to provide support services for students grappling with addictions. And guess what? Baylor was able to add to its narrative without compromising the privacy of any student victim.
Yet the need for greater transparency remains. While legal skirmishes between Baylor and former athletics staffers Briles, Shillinglaw and Tom Hill (Briles dropped his suit last week) might suggest the problems involved only errant athletes, Trib reporting proves that assaults and institutional indifference involved others well beyond the athletic realm.
One stubborn and relevant question that remains: Surely the few top BU individuals sent packing are not solely responsible for the repeated institutional failings to aid and comfort sexual-assault victims and prevent further crimes. Are those who failed the victims on the front lines still in place? If so, how can Baylor regents justify this? If BU regents truly have a case to make, now is definitely the time.