Baylor University is standing behind a letter written in May to former head football coach Art Briles that states the school is unaware of Briles having direct contact with anyone reporting a sexual assault to him or of Briles directly discouraging a victim from reporting to police or university officials, a Baylor spokesman said Friday.
The letter was released to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by the Canadian Football League this week, Briles’ attorney Mark Lanier told the Tribune-Herald on Friday. It is dated May 23 and signed by Baylor University’s general counsel, Chris Holmes. The letter to Briles, referring to the sexual assault scandal and ensuing investigations and lawsuits, states: “As you speak with others regarding these issues, you can be assured you may make certain statements without fear of contradiction from Baylor based on the information currently known to us.
“In particular, at this time 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. Nor are we aware of any situation where you played a student athlete who had been found responsible for sexual assault.
“We wish you the very best in your future endeavors.”
The support for Briles stands in stark contrast to a legal filing by three Baylor regents in February that painted the coach in a negative light regarding his potential involvement in the sexual assault scandal, potentially tarnishing his reputation. The filing focused primarily on Briles’ reaction to football players’ disciplinary issues not directly related to sexual assault.
“Baylor University stands behind the letter, and we also stand behind the decisions that were made regarding the changes within the football program,” Baylor spokesman Jason Cook said.
Briles was hired as an assistant coach by the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats earlier this week, only to see the team and league backtrack on the decision the same day following public outcry.
Briles was fired by Baylor in May 2016 after an investigation by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton found the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations, several of which involved football players. It found the football program was “operating above the rules.”
The letter doesn’t acknowledge potentially damning text messages sent between Briles, former athletics staffer Colin Shilllinglaw and other high-level officials appearing to try to cover up or keep quiet reported crimes committed by football players, according to the legal filing by three Baylor regents in February.
The text messages included Briles’ responses to incidents like disciplining a player who allegedly asked for sexual favors from a masseuse by asking if the masseuse was a stripper, and keeping a situation involving the arrest of a player threatening to kill a non-athlete quiet. Filings in the lawsuit also alleged gang rapes that were reported to Briles and other athletics department staffers.
Referring to a letter Briles sent to Baylor constituents March 1, the newly released letter states, “We appreciate the spirit and tone of your message to the Baylor community in support of the university’s efforts to address sexual violence and the ongoing healing process within our community.
“As Baylor University continues to respond to various investigations and lawsuits, your continued cooperation in sharing honestly and completely the facts of which you are aware will be of great importance.”
Lanier said Friday that most of the information and allegations known by the public came from lawyers, victims and what he said were false media reports, not from Baylor or his client. The letter is “dead-on accurate” and a reflection of the truth regarding his client and the unfair portrayal of the university, he said.
Lanier acknowledged how damaging the legal filings have been for Briles and others.
“The problem is, in America you can say anything in a lawsuit and not be sued for slander or libel,” Lanier said. “It’s destroyed Art Briles’ reputation, it’s destroyed Baylor’s reputation and it’s hurt Ken Starr.”
Starr, the former president of the university, was removed from the presidency the same day Briles was fired.
The school has been named in 10 Title IX lawsuits related to the scandal, with three settled and seven active. The most recent such suit was filed Friday, and the lawyer for a former acrobatics and tumbling coach said they will file a Title IX suit next week. Briles was recently dismissed as a defendant in one of the suits that settled and tried to sue Baylor University officials for libel, but the suit was later dropped. He has consistently denied allegations made against him.
Briles will continue to try to find a coaching job and hopes a school will hire him after looking deeply at the truth of allegations that have been made against him since his firing at Baylor, Lanier said.
“Coach Briles has a couple of passions in his life. His passions include the school, not just the football program,” Lanier said. “His passion is also coaching, and it’s just a crying shame he’s been tarred and feathered for one of his passions — the students. And he’s been removed from his other passion, which is coaching.”
Officials with the Canadian Football League did not return calls and emails seeking comment by Friday evening.