Friday, May 27, 2016

The Baylor Fiasco

If you wrote this as a novel, unless it were a Carl Hiassen farce, people wouldn't believe it because of the two major elements to the story:

1.  Christian school.
2.  School president is former White House Special Prosecutor.

Then again, people might believe it because

1.  It is college football.
2.  It is college football in Texas.
3.  College football is a big business.

Add to that the confusion between the good book and idolatry.  Baylor fans worship God and Art Briles, the now-deposed football coach, and it made you wonder at times in what order. 

Football came first, as did the attention and money that went with it.  Protecting, among others, everyone's daughters, having a process for letting victims speak up safely and treating them with fairness, have a process to investigate allegations quickly, fairly and effectively, not so much.  And now Baylor has a huge mess that snowballed out of proportion because there were institutional failures too numerous to count.  Before anyone goes on a feeding frenzy, not all Baylor employees are awful people and not all Baylor football players are criminals.  All have to be careful to stick to the facts and not paint any situation with a broad brush.  Yes, it is a mess. 

How does it get this far?  I do not want in any way to diminish the importance of the victims here -- the women who were assaulted.  They have suffered immeasurably and no one not a victim can say "I know how you feel," because they do not.  But there are symptoms that are deeply rooted in our culture that give rise both to the offending behaviors and the lack of accountability that need to be addressed.  Among those are:

1.  Let's stop anointing football players as untouchable demi-gods from the time they are 10.
2.  Let's stop overlooking their transgressions because those transgressions might mess up their transgressions and ruin their chances at a "full ride."
3.  Let's figure out alternative ways for them to deal with their frustrations, aggressions and stress constructively and when they are not being watched.  In other words, let's work on their coping and social skills -- in a big way.   Society puts a lot of pressure on these kids to train and perform, perhaps too much so for young men this young.  That statement is not meant to excuse the bad behavior, but perhaps to identify a cause for it. 
4.  Let's examine how football coaches talk about women and tolerate what else is said about women.  Women are very important people, period, who command respect and treatment with decency.  They are not objects for football players' amusement.  And they have every right to say no all the time.
5.  Let's de-couple the good feelings a school might have or earn for itself from the success of any athletic team.  Football, after all, should be an extracurricular activity.  Sadly, in many places, it is a business, and at most FBS schools a poorly run one, as a huge majority of DI football programs lose money.  But if we could de-couple the two, somehow administrators would be able to treat every department and program equally and not have to look the other way because influential alums might deny donations or get them fired if they don't enable the football program to overlook bad behavior if otherwise three key players might get dismissed from the team.  The better argument is that every school that gives a kid a pass on bad behavior is doing him a disservice.  Everyone needs feedback and accountability, especially in these very formative years.  Show me a kid who doesn't get held accountable for more basic, non-criminal transgressions, and I'll show you a kid who will have trouble in the work force and perhaps in life.  Not holding players accountable for sexual assaults -- when then anyone who knew about the attack should be working elsewhere, not at a university and not with college kids.
6.  Let's stop putting college football coaches on pedestals.  They are not leaders who could run corporations (which require a lot more dexterity, inclusion, process and sensitivity) or who could lead governments -- at least as a general proposition.  Most are dictators who get things their way almost all the time.  Some are snake-oil salesmen, using kids for their own gain without caring about their progressing toward a meaningful degree.  Many live lives that are way out of balance.  They are human beings, flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. 

What happened to the Christian aspects of Baylor?  What happened to the moral high ground that Ken Starr used to define and insist that he operated on?  What happened to dignity and decency for all students?  And, Art Briles, what would have happened if your daughter was a victim?  Let's remember, if an assault happens to anyone's daughter, it could have happened to our own daughters.  And that's a scary thought.  Who was protecting those young women?  Shouldn't the adults in the room report matters up the chain, be prepared to demonstrate integrity even if it were to mean losing football games because of suspended or dismissed players, and be expected to care about and take care of all kids at the university? 

It's a sad day all around.  I just fear that there are other situations out there, perhaps many others, because universities get so focused on winning football games that they forget their overall missions and doing the right thing as much as possible.  There is much more to life than football games.

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