By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Whoa, did you catch that Baylor University statement on Thursday?READ MORE: Two Chicago Police Officers Wounded By Accidental Friendly Fire While Confronting Suspect In Lyons, Police Say
It was right smack on the school’s front webpage. Not the football page or athletic department page — the main page that prospective students, curious high schoolers and grownups cutting the tuition checks will see when doing their due diligence on an academic future.
And, oh, the brutal honesty of the school’s self-assessment.
Words like “inadequate,” “failed,” “pattern,” “culture” and “sexual violence” pepper the admission of total letdown mostly of Baylor’s past, present and potential female students but also of any decent human who doesn’t lift sports higher than ethics and morality. The successful savior coach of the football team got suspended-fired. Dang. This isn’t your standard university scandal face-saving (except for merely shifting Ken Starr from the school presidency to, fittingly, the law school).
But it shouldn’t be impressive, and anyone who thinks that coming clean and cleaning up under the rug at Baylor constitutes something between admirable or at least a good start is lying to him or herself.
Makes sense, though. Lying to ourselves about NCAA athletics is something all of us have been doing for the entirety of our consumption of the games on the fields and courts and the willful hoodwinking we accept away from them.
The formerly temperate Baptist university got too drunk too quickly on the booze of recent college football popularity and the dollars and exposure that spew like a kegstand along with it.
For the majority of Baylor’s seventeen-decade-long existence, the Baptist university built along the Brazos River in Waco mostly kept to itself. The private institution, a bulwark of Christian ideals and philosophies, enjoyed the kind of fierce devotion often enjoyed by small colleges and universities, but few people outside of those who spent their formative years at the university paid attention to the school. And Baylor rarely captured the nation’s interest (though it did famously generate headlines when it finally lifted its ban on dancing, in 1996).
That insulation is a mutual benefit to schools and fans of sports nationwide. Besides the really good football teams of late, I think I represent the average college football consumer in knowing nothing about Baylor other than the shocking basketball team murder and attempted cover-up and otherwise being a Big 12 football punching bag until Art Briles became head coach.
When Briles’ highly ranked football teams demanded national attention, the college football consumer was happy to embrace this new name in the BCS landscape. But football between the lines was as far as almost everyone was willing to go, even when the constantly proven ruse of “NCAA team gets really good on pure moxie after years of futility” was playing out in front of us, that fable without the lesson that always involves certain trade-offs off the field in order to have success in college revenue-generating sports. There are nods and winks about dirty money and/or dishonest academics and/or making the sporting public that so craves its own willful ignorance unaware that bad guys are wearing the jerseys and team color polo shirts.
Baylor was toxic — is still toxic and will continue to be toxic as it sprays as much air freshener as possible around us right now — because we the collective sports consumers force them to be. Baylor lied — as an arm of the NCAA is wont to always lie — because we quietly ask them to do so while we lie to ourselves.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Cool Changes
We lie to ourselves that the NCAA is a net positive because we down a sad cocktail of a belief in pure amateurism and sports being independent of sociopolitics.
We vehemently argue that college sports isn’t a figurative plantation in multiple ways.
We quickly shift to speculation of whether the canned coach complicit in the horror can help another football program because that’s what will always be ultimately important.
We martyr the coach, the program and the players because sexual assault is bad, but compromising sports is really bad. And holding coaches and programs as accountable accessories to violence and rape just doesn’t wash. Think of their multimillion-dollar futures, after all.
We pretend that the Baylor scandal is something fairly isolated, that there aren’t dozens of Baylors (probably more) across the country, at small and large schools, Division-I and otherwise. Because Tennessee wasn’t enough to suggest these aren’t isolated situations or products of a specific school culture and not a collegiate and American culture. Mizzou wasn’t enough. Vanderbilt wasn’t enough. Notre Dame wasn’t enough. Florida State wasn’t enough. Did we even know about Tennessee-Chattanooga? Hell, we didn’t even bother to poke around DePaul. Thank goodness Duke lacrosse absolved us of taking any responsibility forever.
But we mostly lie to ourselves because we can’t bear to admit that if we root for and take interest in something deeply flawed then we ourselves must be deeply flawed. Reports and findings and admissions like those of Baylor hold up a really unpleasant mirror in front of our twisted, dishonest faces. So we flee from that mirror, lash out and shatter it if need be. Anything to avoid coming to terms with the negotiation we make with our souls to enjoy big-time college sports.
The NCAA knows how willing we are to buy into a facade. So this week Baylor happens only because what the school and we wanted swept away got too big for the rug. Not long from now, it will be another school admitting culpability in something shameful, while we view it as totally independent and not indicative of a larger problem.
We’ll scold the school itself for lying to us and putting football in such an unfortunate position. Then we’ll ask college sports to keep lying to us so we can go back to enjoying football in a vacuum and putting sports above humanity.
And so we don’t have to acknowledge that we’re lying to ourselves.MORE NEWS: North Side Condo Building Residents Alarmed By Mail Thefts Apparently Committed Using A Master Key
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.