By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) As the leaves on the trees begin to turn color, some things that coincide with autumn’s arrival never change.
Football might be a seasonal sport, but its ability off the field to be vile is evergreen, most notably when it comes to attitudes toward criminal behavior, particularly violence against women. The past seven days have reminded us of that.
Let’s start with former Baylor coach Art Briles, who sat down with ESPN in an interview that aired Saturday to discuss why he’s no longer an employed coach despite New Year’s Day games in 2013 and 2014. If you’re unaware, it’s because he presided over a program that tolerated rape and other violence.
Eight of Briles’ former players have been at least implicated in acts of violence toward women while at Baylor, with three being brought to trial for sexual assault. Tevin Elliott is serving a 20-year sentence for sexual assault. Briles recruited Shawn Oakman and Sam Ukwuachu to Baylor, two players who who were dismissed from other football teams. Oakman is due back in court at the end of this month after pleading not guilty last month to an alleged sexual assault at his Waco apartment in April. Ukwuachu was convicted last year of sexual assault and is seeking a new trial.
“I feel responsibility,” Briles told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “These players are part of our program and representative of our program. When they do wrong, it reflects on me, so I do feel responsibility.”
The problem here is that Briles is lying. Only a month ago, he claimed that he’d “never done anything illegal, immoral or unethical” and “I will coach in the 2017 season.” Between then and the ESPN interview, somebody with better PR sense got to Briles and polished him up for his comeback campaign to win over America’s hearts and numb its brains again to the college sports culture of rape.
When asked what he’d say if given a chance to speak his players’ victims, Briles said: “I’d tell them I’m extremely sorry. It just appalls me that somebody could victimize another human being. And there’s no place in society for it. And I’ve never condoned it and never will and never put up with it.”
Strange, because victim Jasmin Hernandez, who was raped by Elliott and has willingly made her name public, contradicts Briles’ sympathies. She has filed a lawsuit against Baylor and names Briles as a defendant and also says the two were supposed to meet, but Briles backed out. Hernandez and her attorney claim Briles used a potential meet-up as leverage in his settlement with Baylor.
“It’s unsurprising to me (that Briles didn’t show up) and while I’m sure he would like to go around and tie up loose ends and make public acts of attempting repentance, it just doesn’t come across to me as sincere, and I think what he said in his interview with ESPN speaks volumes,” Hernandez said Monday on Outside the Lines. “Actions speak louder than words, and we see his actions here as he put himself and his settlement with Baylor, which is obviously very important to him, above that.
“And then when it comes to just words such as ‘I’m sorry,’ saying ‘No comment’ instead is just an action that is consistent with his past behavior. To me, it’s just a reflection of his character.”
And Briles will probably be on a major program’s sidelines in 2017.
Now we move to North Carolina, a school with an athletic program that has been heavily in the news in recent years for issues non-athletic. But it’s not academic dishonesty in pursuit of the ruse that revenue-generating sports are about “student”-athletes they’re confronted with this week.
“Rather than accusing him of anything, the investigators spoke to him with a tone of camaraderie,” Delaney Robinson said in a statement Tuesday. “They even laughed with him when he told them how many girls’ phone numbers he had managed to get on the same night he raped me. They told him, ‘Don’t sweat it. Just keep on living your life and playing football.’ This man raped me and the police told him not to sweat it.”
Robinson’s statement is regarding Tar Heels football player Allen Artis and the lax response by the university and its campus police.
“After I was raped, I went to the hospital and gave an account of what I could remember to the sexual assault nurse,” Robinson said. “Then I was again quizzed by (Department of Public Safety) investigators, who consistently asked demeaning and accusatory questions. What was I wearing? What was I drinking? How much did I drink? What did I eat that day? Did I lead him on? Have I hooked up with him before? Do I often have one-night stands? Did I even say no? What is my sexual history? How many men have I slept with? I was treated like a suspect.”
Artis turned himself in Wednesday, exactly seven months after the alleged rape, and was suspended indefinitely from the football team Tuesday, per school policy. It’s a policy that doesn’t involve taking initial allegations all the seriously, it would seem. It’s a surprise that much has even happened to Artis, though, considering the hoops Robinson has had to jump through, including holding a freaking press conference to get people to pay attention to her claim of being raped that she first made more than half-a-year ago. The school’s Title IX office concluded its investigation three months ago, yet hasn’t rendered a decision on Artis. Per the documentary on campus rape The Hunting Ground, North Carolina at Chapel Hill received 136 sexual assault reports between 2001 and 2013, with zero of those reports resulting in expulsions.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said that cases like this are “difficult to prosecute and difficult to prove.” His is also an office that has said that, per Robinson’s attorney, “Unconsciousness is rape, black out drunk is not rape.” So despite the examples of successful prosecutions of Baylor players, Robinson’s allegations stand a good chance of meeting statistics that show rape case prosecutions are low and convictions even lower.
It’s pretty nice that college sports has wishy-washy prosecutors on its side and campus police that tend to lean a bit to favorably toward guys in jerseys instead of actual victims. Speaking of, on to South Bend. In Indiana Supreme Court this week, the University of Notre Dame was arguing that its campus police works shouldn’t be a matter of public record. The school was sued in January of last year by ESPN when it refused to turn over university police records requested by an ESPN reporter who was researching correlations between college athletes and crimes. The school argues that state law requires only government agencies to be a matter of public record, and Notre Dame and its campus police are a private entity. ESPN’s lawyers argue that police functions, even at a private institution, are executive functions and matters of public interest. Basically, investigating crimes is investigating crimes, no matter where it happens.
Regarding a hypothetical in which university police were to pull over a car for a violation and then two other cars were pulled over by South Bend police, Justice Stephen David said, “If the South Bend Police Department stopped the second and third car, we have two different sets of interpretations of what might be available to the public by virtue of who the arresting agency was.”
Which seems, ya know, pretty stupid and inconsistent. As Steve Silver points out, “The million-dollar questions, of course, is why does Notre Dame want to keep those records secret?”
Because it’s a major university with major sports teams. Which usually means that school is probably dealing with criminal allegations more often than not, ones that could compromise the program and the revenue. From pages 44 to 50 of Jessica Luther’s new book Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, five different cases of sexual assault by Notre Dame players are mentioned, with the most famous being the allegations of Lizzie Seeberg, who reported her rape in 2010 and was then harassed by players and ignored by the school until she committed suicide.
Notre Dame knows that being an elite athletic department involves some moral flexibility despite its supposed Christian tenets (fistpound to Baylor). It makes icky sense that its campus police should then work to hush bad PR for the sports programs, particularly when male college athletes seem so rapey. So it’s trying to cling to some private institution rights to be able to do what it wishes with rapes and other violence toward its students, particularly when committed by football players.
Happy college football season. Same as you always knew it.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.