(This is the first article in a five part series analyzing athletes, universities, and crime. The primary focus of the series is the ongoing revelations from the rape scandal at Baylor University and was originally published at Blogcritics Magazine on December 14, 2016.)
Welcome to NCAA Fact or Fanatic, where we’re stoked that Army just broke the 14-year-old streak against Navy. It was a great game, and if your last name is Poe, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with naming your son Edgar. (Go Army! He had a great game too.)
Watching the military academies play is an annual don’t-miss pleasure for me. The teams respect each other. The attending cadets from West Point and the Midshipmen from Annapolis are polite, they are competitive but respectful, and their joy when they win is unvarnished and unrestrained. You don’t see a player punching a fan in the face (and then getting rewarded by being a Heisman finalist) or a coach stomping off the field without shaking his opponent’s hand.
Army and Navy represent everything good about college football, and that’s why their annual post-season game is such a pleasure to watch. But 2016 hasn’t been a big year for the good side of NCAA athletics.
Four different universities. Four different types of violations or crimes. And four times that college football fans have questioned the NCAA’s response to each specific situation. UNC has yet to receive any sanctions or punishment for the decades-long scam that allowed athletes (and other students as well) to skate past required GPA totals. Ole Miss voluntarily sacrificed scholarships – 10 to be exact – but the NCAA has so far been mum, and word is the Rebels are about to be slammed for allegations of a far more serious nature. Notre Dame was forced to vacate all wins from 2012 and 2013. As for Alabama, its stars sat out one game each against inferior opponents.
And then, there’s Baylor.
Let us be clear. Sexual assault on college campuses is a skyrocketing national problem. According to the Office of Civil Rights, which is part of the US Department of Education and is responsible for Title IX enforcement, 347 US colleges have been reported for Title IX violations. Of those cases, 57 have been resolved, leaving 290 open. (If you’d like to see the schools on the list, head to their website. Some of the schools are surprising.)
That’s a staggering number. But it doesn’t reveal the entirety of what we’re looking at here. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center tells us that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, while 63.3% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes.
It’s an indisputable fact that Baylor’s not the only school with Title IX issues. What makes Baylor stand out is the prominence of its football program paired with probably the stupidest, most self-destructive behavior the school, its staff and administration, and fans could have demonstrated after the story broke. Considering that Baylor is a Baptist-affiliated private university, the outrage was proportionately higher. And as more details pile up and more women – including victims of at least four alleged gang rapes involving football players since 2011 – are added to the Title IX lawsuit against the university, we felt we needed better perspective on the Baylor case and the environment that incubated such behavior.
So we have brought in a pair of experts for their take on the issue: one male attorney and one female sports journalist.
Kevin Lindstrom received his journalism degree from Texas A&M and his law degree from SMU. He worked as a journalist for the Temple Daily News while getting his degrees and is now an attorney in Dallas.
Laura Leigh Majer graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with a Bachelor’s degree in History, and received her Masters of Public Administration from the University of North Texas. She is an NCAA Special Contributor to NFLFemale.com and host of “Down and Dirty Sports” on AltConRadio. She lives in Dallas.
Some of our questions were sent to both Lindstrom and Majer. A few were individual and pertained specifically to the insight they are best qualified to offer. We thought it important to have both a male and female point of view, one that answered to the law and the other to the media – and we feel the credibility each offers to the tangled Baylor web of disaster is necessary in helping to disentangle the web of craziness surrounding not just Waco, but the entirety of college sports.
Obviously, it’s going to take more than a single column to dig our way through everything, so this is the first component of our approach to the complex dilemma. This series of articles will be focusing on Baylor University primarily, but make no mistake: This is a national problem, and one that has reached unacceptable levels of prevalence.
“I find the Baylor football scandal a disgusting outrage and how it has been handled to be a travesty.”
Majer didn’t mince words with her first assessment of the ongoing scandal. Lindstrom agrees.
“As background, I think big time football came to a small private college and no one was ready for it. There were not enough safeguards, whether that be in making sure the police departments knew the correct protocols, or Baylor’s Title IX office, or the athletic department. Add to that a win-at-all-costs mentality and some conscious decisions to bring in players even though there were legitimate questions about their background, and you have a recipe for systematic problems. As crimes were committed, the focus was on protecting the football program, not protecting the victims.”
Baylor has had a history of resisting Title IX, the 1972 law which barred sex discrimination on campuses that receive federal money. In 1974, when Baylor women couldn’t wear pants on campus, the school’s president called the law “the grossest grab for power in federal history.”
You couldn’t dance on campus at Baylor until 1996, couldn’t be part of a consensual sexual relationship or be homosexual until 2015. The university’s resistance to equitable treatment of male and female students is further complicated by a student code of conduct that is guided by restrictions on drunkenness, lewd or indecent behavior, students living together outside marriage, and
Expression that is inappropriate in the setting of Baylor University and in opposition to the Christian ideals it strives to uphold.
Yes, we’re choking on that last one as well. Baylor’s policies emphasize a “boys will be boys” mentality, while expecting girls to “act like ladies” – a pair of outdated, unrealistic ideologies for the 21st century. Its sexual conduct policy is equally out of touch:
Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.
Why are these rules so important? Because while students and athletes alike are expected to follow them, they are the same rules that were used to browbeat sexual assault victims after they reported the rapes to the administration. In order to have an athlete dismissed or otherwise punished, the victim would be dismissed from the university as well.
“There is still a blame-the-victim mentality, and unfortunately, because there are a few very dramatic cases of false reporting, I think it’s harder to fight against it,” Majernik said.
A multi-site study of eight U.S. communities including 2,059 cases of sexual assault found a 7.1 percent rate of false reports (Lonsway, Archambault, & Lisak, 2009). A study of 136 sexual assault cases in Boston from 1998-2007 found a 5.9 percent rate of false reports (Lisak et al., 2010). Using qualitative and quantitative analysis, researchers studied 812 reports of sexual assault from 2000-2003 and found a 2.1 percent rate of false reports (Heenan & Murray 2006).
Obviously the true numbers of false reports are well below 10 percent. But that slim chance seems to be applied to almost every case of a star athlete accused of an alleged sexual assault. Not just at Baylor, either. Since the 2006 Duke lacrosse team rape case, every alleged assault by a star athlete is considered by the fans of that particular school to be a false claim by “cleat chasers” or “gold diggers” who entrapped the athletes into consensual sex and then reported the encounters as rapes.
One of the more egregious examples occurred with Stanford University’s star swimmer,
Brock Turner, who found an unconscious girl and raped her. Turner’s family inundated both mainstream and social media with statements like this (bolding mine):
His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations. What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock. He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015. Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity. By having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.
That shifts the focus from Turner, the rapist, to the victim’s drunkenness and promiscuity in a classic “blame the victim” tactic that unfortunately has been successful in US courts for centuries. Turner’s sentence was correspondingly light. Six months in prison (he served three and was released), three years of probation, and lifelong registration as a sexual offender add up to a mild price to pay for a man who found an unconscious woman lying on the pavement and whose first thought was not to call 911 like any normal person would, but to remove articles of her clothing and have sex with her without her knowledge or consent. And as the victim said in her statement to the court (which we advise you to read in order to understand the horror of the process for victims of sexual assault):
It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of “promiscuity.” By definition rape is the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.
We have to agree. It’s hard to call an unconscious woman promiscuous by any stretch of the imagination. The only thing more difficult to imagine is Brock Turner having a positive impact on anyone. Even the thought of him talking about alcohol and promiscuity is nauseating, and burgeoning with a self-righteous sense of entitlement that is apparently wholly genetic.
So inherently, there are societal issues in dealing with sexual assault, the criminal process, and particularly the status of being a star athlete at a large university and how that impacts investigations. As Lindstrom pointed out: “To be fair, because athletes are on a pedestal, there is the possibility of them becoming a target, and so to the extent that there should be safeguards against that, that makes sense. But surely there is a way to protect both the athletes and the general student population without allowing one side to get away with abusing the other.”
If there is a way to do that, no one has found it yet.
At Baylor, whose strict Christian code already forces the student body to try and disguise the normal pastimes and pleasures of young adulthood, victims were browbeaten into silence after reporting alleged crimes to the administration. As USA Today reported:
Investigators with the Pepper Hamilton law firm who dug into Baylor’s response to sexual assault claims determined the school’s rigid approach to drugs, alcohol and sex and “perceived judgmental responses” to victims who reported being raped “created barriers” to reporting assaults. Some women faced the prospect of their family being notified.
“A number of victims were told that if they made a report of rape, their parents would be informed of the details of where they were and what they were doing,” said Chad Dunn, a Houston attorney who represents six women who have sued Baylor under the anonymous identification of Jane Doe.
It’s no wonder that an estimated 90% of women who are the victims of sexual assault never report their rapes. It’s an easy defense strategy to claim a victim “asked for it” by the way she behaved, the way she was dressed, the way she talked, the way she presented herself – and somehow, legally, that translates into a examination of her past sexual history, a gauntlet the alleged rapist doesn’t have to face.
Reactions and Consequences
What really sets Baylor apart from the more than 200 other universities and colleges currently dealing with Title IX sexual assault claims is the incomprehensible support that the school, staff, football players, boosters, and alumni have given to the university – support that clearly demonstrates the ideology that wins are more important than students’ safety. Although the university president, athletic director, and head football coach were all fired or encouraged to resign, there’s been very little effort on the part of the university to rectify the culture of its campus – a culture where it’s a known fact that star athletes are going to be protected from the consequences of their own actions.
That culture is what led Baylor’s Title IX Coordinator, Patty Crawford, to resign in October. As Diverse, a website dedicated to documenting diversity in higher education, reported on October 5, 2016:
Patty Crawford told CBS This Morning that the university set her up “to fail from the beginning.” Crawford, who resigned Monday from her role enforcing the federal standards meant to prevent discrimination based on gender, said she received “resistance” from senior leadership but did not identify those leaders.
Baylor officials marginalized her by leaving her out of meetings, undermining her authority and making decisions that should be left to a school’s Title IX coordinator, she said. The treatment led her to file complaints with both the university and U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights. Charges that she was the victim of retaliation are included in those complaints.
“I never had the authority, the resources or the independence to do the job appropriately,” she said.
The events that have occurred since the firing of Coach Art Briles and the resignation of former Baylor president Ken Starr seem to bear this out. Although Briles was forced out, his entire staff (including his son and son-in-law) remained through the 2016 season.
Ten days later, alumni and boosters began a movement to bring Briles back as head coach. Briles was fired on May 25; the meeting of the regents where this movement was considered occurred about two weeks later.
And let us not forget the Baylor-TCU game on November 5, to which fans were urged to wear black – and more specifically “Bring Back CAB” (“Coach Art Briles”) shirts. SBNation’s article showed long lines of people waiting to get their shirts, as well as Tweets from players.
Lindstrom weighed in on the matter with some strong words. “We have seen it in multiple situations where cover-up and denial are making the efforts for justice more difficult, whether it be Penn State or Watergate. The aggressive nature of their denial of any wrongdoing by Briles, when compared to the suffering of the victims, is astounding to see.”
“I look at the support for Briles from alumni and boosters with incredulity. I’ve said many times that if this happened at my alma mater, I would be outraged and would expect full reporting and the harshest punishments for those involved. I do not understand how a fan base can place the success of a football team over the survivors of crimes committed by the players.”
Let’s be frank. The odds of Art Briles not knowing what his players were doing, and particularly at a college with a set of the most ridiculous and unrealistic expectations for young adults’ behavior, are slim to nonexistent. This is borne out with the recent revelation that both Briles and former athletic director Ian McCaw were made aware of a gang-rape perpetrated by football players against a female athlete in 2012 – and neither did anything regarding the report.
And Briles just last week sued Baylor for making him the “scapegoat” in the gang-rape case, a case where five football players assaulted a female athlete. The former head coach doesn’t appear to have any sort of regret or sense of personal responsibility when it comes to what happened on his watch. Apparently, he’s more concerned about his future in coaching, seeing as his lawsuit claims that Baylor officials are conspiring to keep him from getting another job.
“Right now, it seems it is incredibly too easy for a school to do what Baylor did for FIVE YEARS. Five. YEARS. If you want to talk about potential liability, once you establish that there is a pattern, anything after when a reasonable person should have been aware that the system is allowing crimes to happen with impunity, I know I wouldn’t want to be in front of a jury trying to explain why I had enabled a football player to be involved in a gang rape of a student. That is the sickening thing, frankly, that it wasn’t just a one-off. This was a consistent pattern that involved more than ten students and more than 10 student athletes.”
The truth of his statement is frighteningly, despicably clear. Those five years were the most successful years in Baylor football history.
Those five years bankrolled the $266 million dollar McLane Stadium, where on November 5, 45,000 Bears fans blacked out the game just to receive a 62-22 ass-kicking from the Horned Frogs in a powerfully karmic manner.
Those five years saw Baylor’s first Heisman Trophy recipient, quarterback Robert Griffin III.
College athletics aren’t blood sports, but they can create a few – and clearly did so at Baylor. The blood isn’t on display for everyone to witness. It’s a private exsanguination that occurs after the very public assassination of a victim’s character. It’s a bloodletting where the image of the university’s branding or the image of a star athlete takes precedence over doing what is not only right, but required by the law and by basic human decency. And while there are multiple universities who must accept responsibility for the blood spatter on their own campuses, Baylor University stands out as a coven of vampires, feeding from its victims, while hiding behind the mantle of the Baptist church to shield its transgressions.
“What is really frustrating about the Baylor matter to me, personally, is that everyone dropped the ball,” Lindstrom adds. “The media, the police, the school and the football program all failed the victims, and when it became a clear pattern, how can those involved not feel a sense of responsibility for the later victims would probably would not have been victims had they been doing their jobs?” Lindstrom’s comment leads to questions that cannot or will not be answered, which makes his vexation easy to understand. That’s why we’ll explore them more fully in the next installment.
But Laura Leigh Majer expresses her dilemma in words that resonate with us, and probably will with you as well.
“I no longer look at the game of college football the same way. I had very little joy in the 2016 season. Instead, I pulled the curtain back and saw what it is: a big money-making game. If any changes in the culture are going to be made, it will be on so many levels, from the field, to the school, to the press box. There are still a lot of men who don’t like women covering sports, especially football.”
“I had very little joy.”
For some, those five words might apply to a disappointing season, or a loss to their school’s most hated rivals. But Laura Leigh Majer is not only a true fan of the game, but a member of the sports media as well – and she states unequivocally that she can no longer enjoy the sport she loves so much. We know exactly what she means.
We opened this column talking about the Army-Navy game and why it was mandatory viewing for us because of the unvarnished joy the academies have when they win, and because they represent everything that is good about college football. In a year where there is an ongoing saga of athletes accused of committing crimes, it’s hard to come up with a way to reassure Laura that there are still joys to be found in college football.
Mostly because we can’t even convince ourselves. Or our daughters.
We will continue this ever-changing and ever-horrifying story in our next column, where we will evaluate the culpability not only of the universities, but of the NCAA in general. Ms. Majernik and Mr. Lindstrom both have more to say, and so do we. We realize this article is long, but the subject is too important to skim over. And when it comes to student safety on American college campuses, there’s no such thing as digging too deeply into these parasite-infested waters.