Almost three years after being indicted on second-degree sexual assault charges, former Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman was acquitted by jurors in Waco’s 19th State District Court yesterday. Oakman was accused of raping a Baylor graduate student on April 3, 2016, at his apartment, an encounter he claimed was consensual. The jury deliberated for two hours before delivering the not guilty verdict.
The woman who accused Oakman said that the two had a sexual relationship before the night of April 3. But when they went back to Oakman’s apartment that night from a nearby bar, she said he would not allow her to leave, instead forcibly removing her clothes and sexually assaulting her twice. The woman testified in court, saying she now has post-traumatic stress disorder, as did two of her best friends saying she wasn’t the same after what happened. Oakman’s attorneys noted the lack of compelling physical evidence in the case, as well as what the Waco Tribune-Herald called “conflicting testimony from officers and a nurse about the level of the woman’s impairment.”
Oakman’s case was one of the most prominent in the larger Baylor sexual assault scandal, in which one lawsuit said Baylor football players committed 52 rapes in four years, many of which the administration was accused of covering up. (Baylor later settled that lawsuit.) Fellow Baylor defensive ends Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwuachu were convicted of sexual assault. Ukwuachu is appealing his conviction.
Before his indictment in 2016, Oakman was considered a probable first-round pick in the NFL draft, and he told reporters that he wants to join the league as soon as possible. He spoke about his relief at getting to pursue an NFL career, as well saying the vindication he feels his case should give to the disgraced Baylor football apparatus:
“But it never was about me. It was about everybody who was around me. They slandered my name, they fired my coach. I felt like all that was on me. I was a leader of Baylor, of Waco, of the community that I was in and they took us down from the top.
“They took the best player off the field and they took the best coach out of the Big 12. We are coming to get everything back because everything is ours and it never should have been taken away. We built this program from the bottom up, and they tarnished it. They said we was this, they said we was that. But they all taught us better. Coach Briles, Judge Starr, they taught us better. We are not animals.”
Oakman went through the whole legal process, even rejecting a “generous” plea deal in December, but to equate his individual acquittal in this particular case with a general vindication for Art Briles, Ken Starr, and all the other administrators who had a hand in covering up and minimizing reports of sexual assault for years would be to dangerously underplay the systemic failures that led to what a student who sued Baylor in 2017 called “a hunting ground for sexual predators.”
The downfall of the program had nothing to do with some sort of revenge plot by an unnamed “they” to “take down” Baylor. And it’s bigger than one former player being found not guilty.