This is the power that comes with not releasing the facts: in an information vacuum, everyone gets to make up their own narrative. On Thursday, it was Baylor’s Board of Regents offering empty talking points, saying they were sorry without admitting to any details of what specifically they were sorry for, or who specifically at their university was responsible for making life hell for women who said they were raped. They said they had “charted a course of action.” Or had they?
Over the weekend, Baylor changed course. The athletic director who was staying instead resigned after “reflection and prayer,” as if anyone would believe that was what changed Ian McCaw’s mind. Reports on Thursday said defensive coordinator Phil Bennet, who had coached two football players convicted of sexual assault, was taking over the team from Art Briles. None of this went over well, and all of it was wiped away within days by the news that, actually, Jim Grobe was being brought in to lead the team as an interim coach.
Today it was Ken Starr—yes, that Ken Starr—taking his turn with his version of the truth. On Thursday, the regents said they were keeping him on as chancellor and as a tenured professor at the law school. That news, like so much else of what Baylor has said, got the Baptist university bad press. Today, Starr told ESPN’s Joe Schad that he has decided to step down as chancellor but stay on at the law school. Starr said the move was “a matter of conscience.” (He didn’t point out that June 1 also has in the past been a key date for his contract.)
Only segments of Starr’s interview made it onto ESPN, but Schad has been tweeting more from his sitdown, which was originally aired earlier today on an Outside the Lines broadcast (on which I was a guest). Here are a few selections:
The president and chancellor of a university, the person in charge of running the place, said he had no idea what was going on at his university. He was either willfully ignorant, genuinely stupid, or lying.
ESPN’s Paula Lavigne literally caught him in the fallacy of this line on air on Outside the Lines. She later tweeted out the information as well.
The numbers reported to the federal government also tell a different story. Here’s a screenshot from the U.S. Department of Education’s own campus safety website (first pointed out on Twitter):
The off-campus claim also contradicts Lavigne’s earlier reporting, in which women raped off campus said they told Baylor officials about what happened and were met with lackluster investigations or no investigations at all.
At this point, Starr has decided he doesn’t even agree with the findings of fact released by the regents, which he can do because the finding of fact contained no facts.
Starr also has insisted that he had no idea there was a problem at Baylor until 2015, even though former Baylor football player Tevin Elliot was convicted of two counts of sexual assault in 2014. Several of his victims have spoken openly about how they reported their rapes to Baylor only to be met with indifference. Starr’s talking point today went like this:
There’s more from Schad’s timeline, but the idea is the same. Starr at one point compares Briles to Abraham Lincoln and says “students love Uncle Ken.” (It’s worth pointing out that two significant ESPN interviews with men accused of horrific actions—Greg Hardy and Ken Starr—have been conducted by reporters who don’t work for the network’s investigative unit.)
All of this—the endless PR statements, the baffling sit-down interviews, Starr giving an interview where his statements are on-air being shown as lies—is possible because Baylor still hasn’t said what really happened. Yes, the documents released Thursday had strong language and they sounded scary but they didn’t have any real facts behind them. There were no names for who was involved, no timeline of events, not even an attempt to to put a number on how many women at Baylor were sexually assaulted.
Nobody has been told who it was that retaliated against a person who reported a sexual assault. Nobody has been told who decided athletics could have its own internal judicial system. Nobody knows who from the administrative side has been fired. Nobody has said how far back this goes. Nobody has said anything about what exactly were the “reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players.”
Without the facts, anything can be true so long as someone from Baylor will issue a press release or go on TV to talk about it. That’s what’s going to happen until Baylor finally finds the right public announcement that makes all the reporters go away. On Thursday, it was the regents. Over the weekend, it was McCaw. Today, it was Starr. Tomorrow, maybe it will be a few more regents. At some point, Briles will probably do his own forgiveness tour too. Everyone is sorry; nobody is at fault. Conduct by administrators that blamed the victims, discouraged women from reporting sexual assault, and improperly discredited complainants that were filed? It all just “happened.”
This is why Baylor should release everything they gave Pepper Hamilton immediately. Baylor bragged about how much it gave Pepper Hamilton’s lawyers (including “more than a million pieces of information—from correspondence to interviews to reports”) but none of this material is reproduced in its vaunted finding of fact, or even cited. So release it. Tell the truth. Stop doing public relations and start taking responsibility. For once, produce an actual act of good faith. Or, to take a cue from John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”