The Baylor football story has been very interesting over the past several years. From 1996 onward, the program won the following number of wins: 4, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5, 4, 3, 4, and 4. From 2010 forward, the program won 7, 10, 8, 11, 11, and 10 games. In other words, the Bears won 57 games in the 2010’s after winning 43 in the prior 14 years. Quite a turnaround. However, news out of Baylor recently shows that, once again, you simply cannot place faith in athletics–there is routine disappointment.
About a dozen years ago, Dave Bliss lost his job at Baylor due to a murder scandal:
After the murder, one of Bliss’ assistant coaches secretly taped Bliss having a conversation with two players, instructing them to sensationalize stories to police to make it seem that Dennehy was simply another African-American casualty of the drug trade. Bliss resigned from Baylor one day after the August 2003 memorial service for Dennehy.
Now, Baylor has lost the football coach that orchestrated the dramatic turnaround, Art Briles, due to a rape scandal:
In the fall of 2015, Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton to review its past treatment of sexual assault claims. Outside the Lines reported last week that some Baylor officials, including coaches, knew about incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence and other acts of violence involving football players, but most players didn’t miss playing time as punishment.
Thus, Baylor is simply moving from one felony scandal to another in this millennium. Not exactly something to be proud of.
Of course, those looking at athletics for “pride” are often left holding the bag. How many icons have denied various transgressions (from steroids to tax evasion), only to later have to admit to same when the evidence mounts? How many icons have squandered their fortunes on vices and foolishness? How many icons have left this earth far too early, due to an inability to control themselves off the field with anywhere near the diligence of their athletic discipline? Lance Armstrong. The New England Patriots. Michael Jordan’s odd career. Even prestigious Duke seems to merely be escaping punishment.
What happened at Baylor (again) is not a surprise, no matter how shocking. All sports fans treasure their athletics. And perhaps fans do so a bit too much. Too many fans would rather win while bending rules than win honorably. Sadly, all fans get for their fandom is memories and a lighter wallet. It is the players and coaches that actually do the winning. Nevertheless, modern sports has figured out a way to make fans feel like every bit the “winners” that the players are. And with money increasing exponentially in even college sports, the ethics will get blurrier and blurrier.
Baylor is unlikely to get the death penalty, of course. This is 2016 and there would be far too much litigation for it to be worth it. But a Penn State type penalty may be looming. Enough to keep the TV money flowing to the Big XII, but also punish Baylor significantly. And it will likely be deserved.
For now, it is also prudent to await more details. The first details are not always the true details. And the reaction to a scandal these days is not always proportionate to the culpability. Perhaps Art Briles is a good, ethical man. Perhaps not. Time will tell. The foolishness is beginning with a presumption that coaches and players are good men and waiting for them to inevitably prove us wrong.