What has become of Baylor football?
As the Tribune-Herald first reported Thursday, Waco police are investigating allegations of sexual assault against a standout player from the 2015 Baylor football team. As of Saturday, the player hadn’t been arrested or charged, an important fact to note and the reason why the Trib has not reported the player’s name.
Yet even the mere implication of an assault charge delivers another black eye to a Baylor football program that can ill afford to absorb any more. Former Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliott was convicted in 2014 of raping a fellow student. Last August former Baylor defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to probation.
Now another Baylor player faces sexual assault allegations.
One rape on a college campus is one too many. The possibility of three cases in three years within a single football program? That’s an epidemic.
Back in the 1980s, the Oklahoma Sooners ruled college football, and head coach Barry Switzer was revered as a god within the state. Still is, really. But outside of the region, Switzer faced harsh criticism for his apparent lack of control over a scandal-ridden program.
It’s fair to question whether Baylor football coach Art Briles may face a similar future.
Briles is beloved by Baylor fans for resurrecting a long-dormant program and for his homespun humor and generous nature. But from outside the so-called Baylor Bubble, the perception that Briles runs too loose a ship has taken hold. Given the current climate around Baylor, that criticism will probably only be amplified.
No question that some of the finger-wagging signals an outburst of schadenfreude from fans of Baylor’s rivals. A sizeable portion of University of Texas fans have been particularly vociferous in launching their social media grenades. Apparently Texas has the most to gain from the fall of Baylor.
I have no respect for anyone who delights in the misfortunes of others, or for people who want to shape the tragedy of sexual assault into the latest rock in their lifelong pursuit of stone-throwing against the enemy. Such words reveal as much about the speaker as the target.
Nevertheless, these cases cast a damning indictment on the character of Baylor’s football players. Now, I do not adhere to the notion that all or even most of Baylor’s players are bad guys. Quite the opposite, really. In my dealings with the team, I’d describe the vast majority as honorable young men and hard-working students.
But here the bad apple adage holds true. The actions of a few — a few too many, mind you — have poisoned the perception of the entire bunch.
Briles and his coaching staff can’t play babysitter to 80-something college students 24 hours a day. I get that. At the end of the day, each individual player is responsible for his own actions.
But Briles and his coaches did recruit these three players, the two found guilty of sexual assault and the other under investigation. The coaches bear great responsibility in vetting the players to whom they offer scholarships and roster spots. That includes evaluating their character.
A player’s checkered past should prompt these coaches to pass on offering a scholarship, no matter how well he might be able to rush the quarterback. (Briles declined a Friday interview request seeking his reaction to the latest investigation.)
Something has to change. It has to. Baylor had made seemingly noble attempts to educate its student-athletes about the dangers of sexual assault through mandatory Title IX training. But somewhere along the line a disconnect has occurred. Something is not working.
I don’t have all the answers. It’s a problem bigger than Baylor, really. It’s partially a reflection on an American culture that promotes a do-whatever-makes-you-feel-good attitude toward sex. A war is raging against common decency, and college campuses are the primary battleground.
On Baylor’s campus, that culture must change. Within the football program, that culture must change. And the school’s administrators and coaches must lead the way.
The health and safety of Baylor’s students depend on it. There are no higher stakes.