Now that the dust has settled and everyone has had a chance to process the news, I will discuss the topic I have been wanting to discuss for months now – Baylor football.
As a recent graduate of Baylor University, I came into the system during the rise to the top and the quest for national recognition. The 2012 freshman class set a record for the university; the largest number of applications ever received and the fewest amount of students ever accepted. We were still the largest freshman class in school history (and my tiny less than 250 girls dorm was 50+ girls over capacity).
The “Year of the Bear” just happened. RGIII won the Heisman, the men’s basketball team had the best season in school history finishing at 30-8, the women’s basketball team won the national title and finished 40-0, Brittney Griner was named National Player of the Year, Coach Kim Mulkey received National Coach of the Year, and the baseball team went on a 24-game winning streak. As if that isn’t enough right there, all 19 sports programs on campus advanced to the post season. Things. Were. Booming.
I remember the athletic vibes throughout my collegiate career. The wins for football just seemed to keep coming. The “Has Baylor Lost Yet?” Twitter account was created. Football had become a religion on campus; everyone knew it and no one complained about it. We loved it.
In my three and a half years at Baylor I often advocated both sides of the argument – Baylor deserves national recognition but at the same time we didn’t. Of course I wanted the national title. I also recognized pummeling SMU straight into the ground in the 100-degree, season-opener game wasn’t enough. (I’ve wanted to see a Baylor-Oregon match-up for a while now).
Five years later, the university finally has the national recognition everyone in Baylor nation has so desired. But at what price?
In the past week, Baylor lost the university president, the head football coach, a number of faculty, and the respect we as a university have been fighting so hard to gain. The debate my freshman year always seemed to come down to the idea “can Baylor be both a top research institution and a powerhouse athletics school while maintaining their Christian values?”
Right now, many would say the answer appears to be no. Many other universities have been rooting for years for our good times to fade, unfortunately, this is not how anyone would have expected it to come.
In February, ESPN’s Outside the Lines released a report covering assault allegations on Baylor’s campus concerning the football players. The media went crazy; the university remained quiet. I began a post I had entitled “Dear Baylor: Start Talking.” However, I never published it because the article faded and nothing else seemed to come up, or so I thought.
Accusations continued to come. By mid-to-late May, ESPN released another report on the abuse and assault allegations against Baylor football players. Baylor still remained quiet. In a matter of days, my beloved university had been tried and found guilty by the media.
People no longer called for action, they demanded it. One report claimed Starr would take the fall, others declared head coach Art Briles be fired. Yet, amid all the media accusations, the university remained remarkably quiet.
On May 25, rumors began that President and Chancellor Ken Starr had been fired. On May 26, an early-morning rumor claimed Briles had been fired. By lunch time, the Board of Regents released a statement confirming the rumors. Starr would transition to role of Chancellor and law school professor only, Briles is suspended with intent to terminate, Athletic Director Ian McCaw is placed on probation, and the Pepper Hamilton summary (the law firm hired by the board to externally investigate the allegations) released.
May 26, 2016 became one of the darkest days in Baylor University history.
A black-eye hit the university that will now take copious amounts of time to recover from. Heart-breaking and extremely difficult to read due to the excruciating detail, the Pepper Hamilton summary stated sentence after sentence that Baylor athletics and administration failed in the handling of the allegations. From police reports, Title IX reports, administrative reports, and athletic reports, the break down and lack of action covered the entire chain of command.
Pepper Hamilton found during their investigation the benighted belief among administrators that sexual violence “doesn’t happen here.” The firm found the university instead resorted to victim-blaming by researching the complainants choices and actions rather than investigating the report to the fullest extent.
Humorous though, since my freshman orientation had an entire session entitled “Don’t drink the punch.”
Furthermore, Pepper Hamilton found the football program conducted their own investigations into the allegations, preventing the university to critically impose necessary disciplinary actions. Page 11 of the report stated the inappropriate involvement from staff “reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules.”
As a Christian university, Baylor urges the student body to #BeTheStandard, especially in athletics. What standard have we as a university set?
Seeing Briles go was hard. He took a mediocre team to a national contender team. The Bears have made their fans proud, but at a hapless cost. Of course the football boys were upset on Thursday. They found out their coach who invested so much time into them was gone.
Likewise, many female students began to speak out on how they never felt unsafe during their time at Baylor. I think we can all agree this is wonderful to hear. However, I pray everyone realizes this was not always the case. There were female students who felt unsafe, who feared for their lives, and who now live with the pain and trauma of what happened to them.
On May 26, Baylor decided to turn the standard.
The standard that Baylor is now setting is a moral one – no football victory is worth rape.
Baylor broke our hearts. The once Palace on the Brazos that became a beacon for the places Baylor and its football program would one day reach now lights the tragedy befallen upon its banks.
Baylor has a long way to go. The road to recovery will be hard. All-American players, national titles, and even single game wins are not worth campus safety. The Board of Regents are pushing Baylor back to being the standard, beginning morally.
When I learned the consequences of a gridiron glory, I was ashamed to be a Baylor alumna. I was upset and angry at what happened. Then Baylor started talking. Baylor started taking action. Baylor began to set the standard and started being Baylor again.
Pro Ecclesia and always Baylor proud.