It isn’t transparency when it’s offered solely on your terms and to your benefit, especially if you are the powerful institution allegedly coming clean. There should be no comfort in the limited disclosures Baylor offered in a Dallas County court yesterday about how then-coach Art Briles, then-athletic director Ian McCaw, and assistant coaches created an informational black hole in which no consequences could attach to their football players, even those accused of rape. There should be no sigh of relief that Baylor finally talked about accusations that football players intentionally gang raped students multiple times and recorded it. Because this was, still, limited information, released on the Baylor Board of Regents’ terms and to their benefit.
In response to a lawsuit by former athletic department staffer Colin Shillinglaw, Baylor finally went into detail about how football players were shielded from justice even when they were accused of gang rape, domestic violence, physical assault, and indecent exposure. But this was not just an information dump. This was also a legal filing that continued to take swipes at those who failed to assist Baylor in its ongoing campaign of image management and damage control:
- In the court document, the regents ask readers to believe they had no idea there was a problem until a Texas Monthly report on the Sam Ukuwachu trial came out. This would require believing that they had previously watched former football player Tevin Elliott be tried and convicted on two counts of sexual assault, thought that was an isolated incident, and never asked a single question about how a football player was able to rape so many women—three testified at his sentencing—before being arrested.
- They also swipe at former Title IX officer Patty Crawford, who ultimately turned down a settlement with the university and spoke out about her time there, calling her statements to the press “largely untrue” while never saying what, exactly, is untrue. (They say they have emails that conflict with what Crawford has said publicly and repeatedly, but never quote the emails.) The regents also do not address the fact that another former Title IX officer with the university has said that Baylor’s account of what happened with Crawford contains a lie.
- They call their “finding of fact”—which contained no facts— an “unprecedented institutional mea culpa within higher education.” This is perhaps true, if not in the sense they mean it, but for Baylor to have released a document like the Freeh report examining what happened at Penn State would have required identifying just who was to blame for the systemic failures to help women who said they had been raped.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, they also disclose that Pepper Hamilton, who were responsible for the purportedly unprecedented mea culpa, not only didn’t find every report of sexual assault, but weren’t even tasked with doing so.
Here is how Thursday’s court filing describes what Pepper Hamilton did (emphasis added is mine):
Pepper Hamilton was not assigned to probe every single sexual assault allegation at Baylor. It was not charged with determining the total number of alleged sexual assaults that were reported or allegedly occurred during a set time period. And it was not asked to determine the guilt or innocence of any or all of those accused of sexual assault. For this reason, Pepper Hamilton did not interview any of the accused.
The vehicle for Pepper Hamilton’s task was a “stress test” of Baylor’s institutional response under Title IX. To conduct this stress test, Pepper Hamilton would identify and review a subset of specific cases focusing on Baylor’s institutional response and compliance (or lack thereof) with Title IX.
The court document later states: “Again, it is important to note that this did not mean the law firm had identified all alleged sexual assaults.”
Regents previously said that 17 women reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 players, including four alleged gang rapes, since 2011. Those numbers are different than those given in a recent Title IX suit, which said that football players committed 52 acts of rape, including five gang rapes, by 31 different football players in four years. Now consider both sets of numbers knowing that Pepper Hamilton was doing a “stress test.” Even the recent court filing from Baylor adds some fudging, now saying it’s “at least” 17 women and “at least” 19 football players.
But perhaps most hypocritical is how Baylor continues to insist that it simply could not release these details because of an extensive list of concerns: respect for the privacy of the victims, student privacy laws, the Violence Against Women Act, Title IX, confidentiality requirements, confidentiality assured by Pepper Hamilton, and Baylor’s “confidentiality guidelines.” What Baylor leaves is that, even if you believe them on those points, they just threw them all out the window to protect their own asses in a civil suit that—if they wanted to—they could settle without responding to it publicly in ever-increasing detail.
Privacy is a concern, it seems, until it’s in Baylor’s best interest to throw it away. They even go so far as to argue this is them righting a wrong because “it would have been irresponsible for the Board to allow Coach Briles’ supporters to continue polluting the record.” Briles, though, never could have done that if they would have been honest in the first place. Instead, when a civil suit is on the line, suddenly Baylor magically found a way to discuss the details without violating any privacy laws.
At no point does the document say what the regents knew; in fact, their own actions are remarkably absent. It says a “small number” of regents resisted firing Briles and others, but never says who or why. It doesn’t explore why Pepper Hamilton only did a “stress test” and not a full investigation of how many women were raped at Baylor and how accusations were treated. It doesn’t say say why the regents managed to never produce a single piece of paper on the entire investigation, a convenient way of burying one of the biggest college athletic scandals in recent history.
The document, when it comes to the regents, still has a sense of revisionist history about it, even making this claim at one point: “In many quarters, the Board received praise for its bold actions.” Later, it says “Many in the national media recognized the Board’s decisions in May were part of a larger cultural shift that had finally reached Baylor after roiling other campuses for years.” That seems to be a polite way of saying that rules that told campuses they were federally mandated to investigate reports of sexual assault went ignored at Baylor longer than at other universities. (Or perhaps they don’t read Deadspin.) Reading the latest court filing is, in some ways, like reading the first Baylor report; central to both is an apparent effort to convince you that the regents know nothing, see nothing, and ask nothing.
This is not to take away from what they revealed, which is horrifying. This is not to say that Briles, Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr), and everyone around them didn’t deserve to be gone. Be as disgusted as you please at the claim that a booster told them, “If you mention Baylor’s mission one more time, I’m going to throw up ... I was promised a national championship.” If you grew up in college football country, that quote will ring true. But what has been revealed is, still, not enough. Baylor might say that they wanted to “place its focus on the future rather than dwell on the tragedies of the past,” but they leave another cliché unmentioned: Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
By never telling the full truth, Baylor has weaponized the facts, which are being used and will be used on its own terms and to its own advantage. Or perhaps Baylor will never release enough, because to do so would require one of the most Christian acts of all—repentance.