On Baylor and True Justice
I haven’t written anything about Baylor yet. I haven’t wanted to.
The fallout from the numerous cases of domestic violence and sexual assault against women–many of them university students–by Baylor football players continues to spiral. The university fired head coach Art Briles. The president and athletic director have both stepped down. The university is engulfed in one of the biggest college sports scandals in recent memory.
However, despite having a lot of opinions on the matter, I’ve kept pretty silent. My only public comments on it have been in a couple short segments on a student-run radio show, which I doubt had much listenership.
The main reason I haven’t said much is that I am a TCU graduate. I knew anything I had to say on the subject would come across as petty sniping at a rival.
I’ve been working as a journalist for a few years, and part of that job is to strive to be fair and write with an awareness of my own biases. I feel that I have done that fairly well, aiming to cover TCU athletics and the school’s rival institutions with as much objectivity as possible.
But I didn’t trust myself to say anything about Baylor–TCU’s biggest rival–that wouldn’t be perceived as spiteful. So I stayed quiet. More than enough columnists were chiming in to condemn Baylor’s actions (or lack thereof) that my opinion would have been white noise anyway.
I have friends and acquaintances whom I know from TCU, however, who have had no problem voicing their opinions on the matter. I’m not angry with those friends. I respect and love them, and they have the right to voice whatever opinion on the matter they wish.
And yet, I’m finally taking part in the conversation because some of what has been said and shared on social media makes me uneasy.
I’ve heard friends say the NCAA should hand Baylor’s football program the death penalty, which it gave SMU back in the late ‘80s. Another friend shared this article, which poses a more extreme solution: disband Baylor’s entire athletic program. Other posts on Facebook or Twitter have skewered Briles and former Baylor president Ken Starr.
Plenty of columns and opinions like this have filled my social media timelines for a couple of weeks now. Most of them have come from TCU fans, alumni and current students.
That’s fine. If you truly think Baylor deserves such penalties, that’s your prerogative. I’m not even sure I disagree. I just have a question.
If this were any other school, would you be calling for the same kind of punishment? If this were USC, or Alabama, or Michigan, or Middle Tennessee State, would you feel so strongly? Would you even care at all?
What if it were TCU? Would you be calling for the death penalty then?
It’s an unfair question. It’s entirely hypothetical and impossible to answer. It’s also unfair because it is too hard to separate our emotional investment into our school to even try to evaluate the situation objectively. (Again, that’s why I haven’t written anything about this until now.)
However, I’m posing the unfair question because it’s the only way I know how to separate our rooting interests from our desire for justice. The fact is that if our answer to the question changes based on how much we hate (or love) the school, then we aren’t really interested in justice for the victims. We are interested in our own validation.
These calls from TCU fans for the NCAA to bring the hammer down on Baylor have a tone that makes me uncomfortable. There isn’t outright glee, but there is an underlying smugness. There is a sense that the Bears are finally getting what was coming to them. It’s a satisfaction that the team TCU fans have hated for so long is now crumbling. It’s vindication after being “proven right” after believing for years without hard evidence that the Bears were dirty.
But if a scandal of this nature and magnitude happened at another school, I sincerely doubt my timeline would be so filled with outrage and righteous indignation. I say that because we had one a few years ago at Penn State, and I don’t remember the same reaction.
When Jerry Sandusky’s actions came to light in 2011, it was considered a travesty, but I don’t think the TCU fanbase had quite as much interest in justice for sexual assault victims then.
That isn’t even the most recent one.
How about the years of sexual assault allegations that have culminated in a massive lawsuit against the University of Tennessee that is going on right now? I don’t see Horned Frog fans outraged by the injustice in Knoxville. But if the Volunteers played in the Big 12, maybe we would be.
And why the calls for the NCAA to take action? Given how the organization has shown itself to be completely incompetent in handling investigations like this in the past, they shouldn’t come near it. Putting this situation in their hands wouldn’t guarantee justice for the victims. It would only guarantee a circus. But if that circus involves vacating wins or taking away Big 12 titles, well then the ends justify the means, right?
That’s the problem. If our interest in “justice” is really just a desire to see the team we hate most get comeuppance, we aren’t actually interested in justice. Justice is impartial. Justice doesn’t care who the culprit or the victim is. It simply seeks to make things right.
If we really care about justice, we should be talking about what’s being done to help the victims through this trauma. We should be talking about how to improve the environment for women at Baylor and other universities across the country.
We should be talking about creating a culture where athletes, and men in general, see women as having value and dignity as the human beings they are. A culture where a woman is allowed to say “No,” to a man, and a culture where that man doesn’t think he’s entitled to do what he wants with her anyway.
Baylor has a lot to answer for in the coming months and years. There are things the university has to change in its administration and in its athletic department to better protect the rights of women. Speaking as a believer, I will say that Baylor, which still claims to be a Christian institution, has to do more to safeguard the lives of the people in its community, because they bear the image of God and because Jesus died for them.
However, Jesus’ idea of justice was not sitting in an ivory tower and looking down condescendingly on sinners. His justice was to come into their midst and help the victims and those who had been marginalized, oppressed and forgotten. That’s what we should want in this situation too.
I don’t pretend to know how to make that happen, but I want to learn. So someone please help me. Because that conversation about helping victims and working to end this country’s epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence is far more important than the conversation about what’s going to happen to the Baylor football program.
And it’s a conversation which I’m much more interested in having.