Given the humiliation that Baylor University has experienced over sexual assaults the last couple of years, losing Saturday’s season-opener to Liberty University, of all contenders, might seem a relatively minor flap, but it was nonetheless a bitter pill for alumni, students and players to swallow. None of it was made any easier when, on the eve of the game, fans learned that former head football coach Art Briles, fired in 2016 for administrative failures in the scandal, received last May a letter from Baylor recommending him to potential employers.
Leaked after the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats hired Briles as an assistant coach just long enough to outrage their own fans, the letter at first glance would seem to largely absolve Baylor’s popular, phenomenally successful coach of wrongdoing. Certainly, it seems to conflict with at least the spirit of the termination agreement between Baylor and Briles in June 2016 when they jointly acknowledged “serious shortcomings in the response to reports of sexual violence by some student athletes.” This included key failures in “delegation of disciplinary responsibilities with the football program.”
And certainly this jarring Baylor recommendation letter — jarring for all led to believe the worst of Briles — paints a different picture than the Feb. 2 legal filing by three Baylor University regents responding to a lawsuit by a fired BU assistant athletics director. The Baylor filing cites text messages by athletics staffers — including Briles — expressing satisfaction they had avoided allegations of misconduct being forwarded to Baylor administrative higher-ups. Text messages also reflected their frustration at the various decisions of assault victims that might complicate matters for them.
Yet a closer, more discerning reading of Baylor’s May 23 recommendation letter reveals just how carefully worded it is. For instance, it slyly notes that “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.” That distinction doesn’t negate what regents alleged in February — that Briles was “operating an internal disciplinary system outside Baylor’s policies,” one employing his assistants more directly.
If there’s a larger point to all this, it’s that the letter only further aggravates sentiments and stirs confusion among sorely conflicted alumni, parents, faculty and players, many of whom seemed more willing of late to put aside bitter differences with a university that has failed to specify why, on May 26, 2016, it deposed Briles and other key Baylor officials. Granted, Briles’ own conflicting comments about his culpability in the Baylor scandal the past year and a half haven’t helped matters.
With promising new leadership at Baylor, now is the time to provide more details as to why the Baylor family had to undergo all this grief and turmoil. Revelations now might lay the foundation for healing and understanding in the long run. It’s way overdue.