Can it really have been that bad? That question positioned itself in my frontal lobe at about 10:30 this morning and will not go away. The reason, of course, is that at about that time it became clear that Baylor was going to fire Art Briles as a result of the investigation into the school’s handling of sexual assault and domestic violence cases, most involving the football team. For a year, there has been background noise about the player conduct issue growing louder and louder until it reached a crescendo last week with an ESPN report strongly implying a cover-up.
The school also released the “Findings of Fact” from the report; moved Ken Starr out of the president’s office; and “sanctioned” the athletic director, whatever that means. And apparently laid waste to the offices that were supposed to investigate and handle allegations of this type, although no names were released there. I will get the lawyer part out of the way first. The report on which the school based its actions provides at least a surface answer to my question: “No, it wasn’t that bad. It was worse.”
I say “surface answer” because what we are seeing are the law firm’s conclusions, as opposed to the evidence on which those conclusions are based. We have not heard Art Briles’ side of the story and we might never hear it. But for today I have to assume that a law firm with this specific expertise that has invested thousands of man hours into looking at the issue, got it pretty much right. The picture the firm paints comes straight out of Hollywood: the villainous win-at-all coach who looked the other way as some of his warriors inflicted horrific damage on the very fans who worshiped them. No amount of “it was he said/she said”; “girls should not be drunk at 2:00 in the morning” or “the media and UT are out to get us” can explain it. A man I had admired and rooted for let me down in the hardest way imaginable.
How can I process that? At 55, I should know better and care less. It is just football. I am the same person today I was yesterday and hopefully I will be the same person tomorrow. But who I am is a little bit old school. Old school values loyalty. Old school places faith in our institutions, even if they are flawed. Old school knits our identity in the fabric from the places that formed us.
Based on that ethic, today hurts as much as anything has hurt in a long time. Many see Baylor as standing for something repulsive. But old school is also an optimist. It probably took a titanic power struggle (Baylor politics is nothing if not internecine) and it came later than it should have, but today Baylor University ripped the scab off. I am not sure it would have happened everywhere else, but I do know Baylor finally did the right thing.
Sports may be an escape from everyday life, but it can also inform how we should live our lives. The next time my wife has to discipline a child who believes his athletic prowess separates him from the rules of society, she can point to this. And maybe, just maybe, 10 years from now McLane Stadium will be rocking again with a different cast of characters who did it the right way. God willing, I’ll be there.