By MIKE HERNDON
What kind of a person cares more about a game than about the well-being of their fellow human beings? Who creates the kind of culture where we protect the perpetrator but not the victim, where we’re willing to look the other way if a man forces himself upon a woman as long as he weighs 240 and can run a 4.5 40?
No, we would never condone the sexual assaults that were alleged and, thanks to Art Briles and his football staff, never fully investigated at Baylor. But we, the American public, love football so much – and in so doing, we make it so valuable — that we essentially create the culture in which a man like Briles can feel like has too much to lose to do the right thing.
Don’t think so? How long did it take us to set the disturbing details of the Pepper Hamilton report aside and start talking about whether Briles would ever coach again and who might be a candidate to replace him at Baylor?
This is by no means an excuse or an apology for Briles, who was “suspended with the intent to terminate” (legalese for “start packing your office”) this week by Baylor for failing to report allegations of sexual assault involving his players and, according to the school-commissioned Pepper Hamilton report, even actively discouraging complainants from reporting them. His pink slip was earned and if that’s all he gets, he can consider himself lucky.
But we have to ask ourselves: What would bring a man to allow such things to go unpunished? To think it was OK to handle cases of sexual assault on his own and, if the report is accurate, to sweep them all under the rug?
Briles had 4.2 million reasons for it.
That was the size of Briles’ salary in 2015, one of 16 in college football at $4 million or more. With that oversized salary comes an oversized expectation of results — a continuation of 10-plus-win seasons Briles’ Bears had managed in four of the last five seasons.
Because let’s be honest here: This isn’t really about giving a young man a second chance or the benefit of the doubt. This is about coaches like Briles wanting to keep their multi-million dollar jobs.
Why do they make so much money? Because so many of us consider what they do to be important. Because we buy tickets and merchandise and watch games on TV, which in turn leads ESPN and other networks to sign billion-dollar deals with conferences for TV rights. It all comes back to us.
Twenty-four college athletic departments brought in revenues of more than $100 million last year. So athletic directors and university presidents also feel pressure to look the other way and let their football coach guide the cash cow.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it, that the president of a university – whose job it should be to ensure that a campus full of loan-strapped students get the education they’re paying for – could be judged on the success of athletic teams. But here we are. Let one hire an unsuccessful AD, who hires a couple of unsuccessful coaches, and see how long it takes for the boosters to start screaming for his or her head.
In this case, on-field performance had nothing to do with the reassignment of Baylor president Ken Starr. The lesser punishments he and athletic director Ian McCaw received are presumably related to how much they knew – or can be proven to have known – about the incidents and Briles’ inaction in relation to them. While we may never get the level of knowledge we got in the Penn State case about what the school’s top administration knew and did, we can at least probably agree that they should have known about something so central to the well-being of the students on their campus.
But we should have known something was rotten in Waco, too. National and Texas-based news outlets have been reporting on this issue for months, but we scrolled past it to check the box score of last week’s game and the injury reports for next week’s conference showdown.
This is our release, our escape from everyday lives colored by differing hues of gray into a world of black and white — wins and losses, trophies on shelves and records in books, our team and that bunch of cheaters from the other side of the state. We wrap ourselves up in it, let our affiliations define us, and so we take it personally when our team falls short on the field, as though it had anything to do with us at all.
We make excuses for athletes accused of sexually abusing women and other crimes, as long as they lead our favorite team to a win the next week. And then, just as quickly, we bash them when they fall short on the field, even if they’re doing everything else right, even if the other team was simply better.
Is it wrong of us to follow sports so closely? To cheer passionately for our favorite teams? To wear our favorite player’s jersey and tailgate outside our favorite school’s stadium on Saturdays? Of course not. But everything has to be taken with perspective, and too many of us seem to have lost it.
I spent part of Thursday scanning the noxious Twitter timeline of one particular waste of perfectly good carbon who called the Baylor victims “liars” and the reporters who covered the case worse before tucking tail and shutting off access to his tweets. I couldn’t bring myself to screen-grab that filth. It was just one pathetic troll with 14 followers and an egg for an avatar, but then you think of all the other times you’ve seen female reporters – and even female victims – referred to online with words that start with B and C, all because some troglodyte with two brain cells and a Twitter account is worried about how his favorite team is going to do in the fall.
And you can’t help but ask yourself: What the hell is wrong with us?
Categories: College football