Rushing to judgment and throwing a rope over a tree limb is an American vice. So it goes in condemning judge, jurors, police, coaches, administrators and news media in the wake of former Baylor University football player Sam Ukwuachu’s conviction last week for sexually assaulting a Baylor soccer player in autumn 2013.
Strong feelings are understandable. Ukwuachu’s sentence of 10 years’ probation and 180 days in county jail can’t help but outrage all who crave justice for the shaken victim. This sentence has aggravated matters at Baylor at a time when more Americans question university priorities amid a nationwide plague of violence against women committed by football players.
Yet the scramble to condemn can also reveal ignorance and lack of understanding. For instance, the all-consuming social media lit up last weekend with some blasting the district judge handling the case for giving Ukwuachu such a lenient sentence. But it was the jury that handed down the probated sentence. The judge tacked on as much jail time as he legally could — and then added more probationary time for good measure.
And while debate over whether Baylor head football coach Art Briles knew of Ukwuachu’s punching and choking his girlfriend at Boise State before the player transferred to Baylor has now settled into a “he said/he said” situation with the former Boise coach, that hasn’t stopped some from cavalierly demanding Briles step down. Huh? Though anything but comprehensive, an athletic transfer form for Ukwuachu from Boise State gives no indication he roughed up his girlfriend. Baylor released the form to the public Friday.
Even the local news media have taken slings and arrows for supposedly being in Baylor’s back pocket and quashing the story, though we suspect Baylor higher-ups would tell a different story about the relationship between the Trib and Baylor these past 15 years. (A survey of our online archives over those years will underline that.) We suspect, too, some folks could use a Law 101 primer on what a sealed indictment is or how one researches an arrest when no arrest record exists.
Baylor President Ken Starr’s order for a “comprehensive internal inquiry into the circumstances associated with this case and the conduct of the offices involved” is commendable. At this point, we see no reason to doubt the point man in this inquiry: Jeremy Counseller, professor of law, faculty athletics representative to the Big 12 Conference and NCAA and, finally, a former prosecutor. However, given doubters in the public and news media already firing shots, an independent investigation might have carried more weight.
Amid all this, some conclusions can be made. First, even in as fine a criminal justice system as we have in the United States, some matters will always befuddle. The question of why a jury would give probation to someone convicted of sexually assaulting another must baffle. Also, the fact stands that even a university that proudly proclaims its Christian identity and revels in community engagement can falter badly in protecting students and rooting out evil. An exacting, unforgiving campus protocol should be the top concern of Counseller, Starr and BU regents.
While questions are understandably being asked of how much scrutiny Briles gave Ukwuachu during the transfer phase, any investigation must shed a bright light into the investigatory competence of Bethany McCraw, the associate dean who earlier concluded not enough evidence against Ukwuachu existed to move forward with the allegations. This put prosecutors Hilary LaBorde and Robert Moody at odds with her and Baylor during the trial.
Many questions remain. Both Baylor and this community must demand detailed answers delivered with upmost transparency, even as excitement of another season of Baylor football threatens to make some of us lose our heads and hearts for real justice.