The Baylor sexual assault scandal is simultaneously over and very much not over. It’s over in that former president Ken Starr, former athletics director Ian McCaw and former head football coach Art Briles and his staff have all been swept out of town. But it’s not over in that just last week a judge ordered Baylor to overturn documents related to the wide-ranging Pepper Hamilton investigation to the lawyer representing a group of women who say they were raped at the school. And on Tuesday, the wound of the scandal will be ripped open again with the release of Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University Amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis.
FootballScoop reviewed an advance copy of Violated (Center Street, 355 pages), and from the beginning it’s clear this is a Baylor University book, not a Baylor football book. In fact, the cover is an image of Pat Nef Hall, not McLane Stadium, a Baylor football helmet or of Briles himself. Yes, Baylor football failed, but so, too, did Baylor’s administration, and its judicial affairs office, and its Title IX office (or lack thereof), and Baylor’s police department, and Waco’s police department. Authors Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach — who spent years reporting on Baylor for ESPN in advance of this book — meticulously lay out exactly each of those levees failed before the entire campus was submerged by this flood.
A reading of Violated led to the following conclusions:
Cases handled by Waco PD involving Baylor athletes too often stayed with Waco PD, and were never shared with anyone at Baylor. Worse, Baylor PD was woefully unprepared to handle the seriousness and magnitude of cases they were tasked to investigate. “He had literally no idea what he was doing at all,” McLennan County assistant DA Hilary LaBorde said of one detective’s investigation. On campus, Baylor PD viewed itself more of an arm for enforcing parking violations than ensuring campus safety. Baylor was understaffed and untrained at treating and servicing sexual assault victims; for instance, when one victim sought to use the seven counseling sessions provided by her tuition, she was told the next open appointment wasn’t until the following semester. Violated tells a number of stories that follow the same pattern: gregarious women who do well in school begin to withdraw inside themselves, classes start being missed, grades fall, scholarships are lost and victims are forced to leave school, all while Baylor administrators consistently miss warning signs and are unwilling or unable to reach out and keep these women in schools.
Furthermore, the sexual assault crisis exposed a blind spot between Baylor’s image of campus life and reality. The system and culture in place at Baylor made it as difficult as possible for victims to A) report sexual assault and B) stay in school.
The regents were informed of an interview one regent said was “straight out of a script of victim blaming,” between the former Baylor police chief Jim Doak and a woman reporting an assault. There were statements like, “Honey, don’t you know that if you wouldn’t have been out drinking, this wouldn’t have happened to you? What are your parents going to say?” The regents heard about a woman who showed the attorneys a list of twenty-seven people she had to recount her assault to in order to switch majors to the business school so as to avoid encountering her alleged perpetrator.
While this is a book about Baylor that starts with Baylor football, rather than a Baylor football book, it does place a fair amount of dirt on the football program’s hands.
And what struck me while reading it — trust me, I’m less interested in writing another “rape bad” “Art Briles bad” piece as you are in reading one — is how Briles could have stopped the rape scandal that ended his career and irrevocably harmed his entire staff’s, many of whom were figurative or literal family to him.
Lavigne and Schlabach devote the first third of Violated to chronicling the crimes and prosecution of former linebacker Tevin Elliott. He was eventually convicted of two counts of sexual assault for a spring 2012 rape, but he should have been kicked off the team by at least fall 2011.
Briles had come to Tevin’s defense before, when the player was caught plagiarizing, which was a violation of Baylor’s academic honor code. It was his second violation, and after he failed to respond with an appeal, the provost’s office suspended him for the fall 2011 semester, which meant he’d miss the football season. More than two months after the appeal deadline, Briles personally intervened on his behalf, emailing then-president Ken Starr and asking for a late appeal. Starr accepted Tevin’s appeal later — which appeared to have been written by an athletics department academic advisor — and overturned the provost’s decision to suspend him. Starr also allowed the athletics department, and not the standardly appointed judicial affairs department, to oversee Tevin’s probation. Judicial affairs staff complained, and with good reason, because when Tevin failed to show up for class, was in danger of failing, and was caught cheating — all violations of his probation — athletics department officials did nothing.
So here you have a player is caught cheating in school, his head coach appeals to the school president to bend the rules for him, the president obliges, the player makes no attempt to follow his probation — and absolutely nothing happens to him. Elliott played in 12 games that season, though, and finished second on the team in tackles for loss.
Elliott’s case is at once a perfect encapsulation of how this was allowed to happen and an outlier. The spring 2012 rape for which he would eventually be sent to prison also got him kicked off the team, but he was accused of raping two women before that and cited for a Class C misdemeanor for assaulting another.
Let’s move on to another case.
Tight end Tre’Von Armstead and linebacker Myke Chatman were accused of raping a woman in the spring of 2013. But prior to that Armstead had “a history of being on probation with Baylor University for prior misconduct.” (Both players have since been arrested for the alleged assault. Chatman was later kicked off the team for drug offenses.)
While those cases percolated below the surface of the national consciousness, Sam Ukwuachu’s case turned the heat on Baylor to a boil, largely because his impending rape trail went largely unreported and unnoticed until just weeks before, when Texas Monthly ran an expose on it. Ukwuachu hadn’t found trouble on Baylor’s campus before he raped a woman while waiting out his redshirt after transferring from Boise State. The question on Ukwuachu was whether he belonged at Baylor in the first place.
He was kicked off the team at Boise State for “being insubordinate and missing practices.” Boise State officials knew Ukwuachu had a long history of violent behavior toward his girlfriend and mental instability, and it’s clear Baylor made no effort to know Ukwuachu’s history. How much Briles knew ahead of that is up for debate. Then-Boise State head coach Chris Petersen said he “thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.” How much Briles did or didn’t know of Ukwuachu’s history in Boise missed the larger point, as LaBorde pointed out. “No one ever thought that a freshman All-American was kicked off the team for being late to practice,” she said. “It had to be pretty significant.”
Finally, there was Shawn Oakman. Oakman was another transfer accused of raping a woman. Before that, though, he was dismissed from Penn State for allegedly attempting to steal a convenience store sandwich and grabbing a female store clerk’s wrist in the process. Baylor found that episode sufficiently harmless enough to take Oakman, but only because the Bears never requested Oakman’s full student file at Penn State. They instead relied on a recommendation from then-Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien who, in the email advocating for Oakman’s second chance, wrote Oakman was, as Lavigne and Schlabach write, “one of five or six players who kept showing up on disciplinary lists, including police matters, which is why he had to dismiss him.”
Baylor didn’t see the full file because it didn’t want to see the full file. Oakman — and Ukwuachu, and Armstead, and Elliott — could play, and everything else would take care of itself.
Further lawsuits have uncovered a pattern of Baylor officials working to help players skirt disciplinary processes, both internally and externally. There was one text that showed Briles hoping to keep an underage drinking arrest of a freshman defensive tackle away from Baylor’s judicial affairs office. Or a 2013 case where Briles and an unnamed assistant huddle to keep a case of a player brandishing a gun at a female student away from judicial affairs. Or the time a player was facing suspension for multiple drug offenses when a staffer texted Briles that “if (Baylor’s VP of student life) does not reinstate President (Starr) will.”
Another text from Briles to an assistant, this time involving a player caught selling drugs: “I’m hoping it will take care of itself– if not we can discuss the best way to move on it.” Judicial affairs was never notified. Said an unnamed assistant of the player: “Him just hanging around Waco scares me.”
The attitude ran to the top of the athletics department. When one player was arrested for assaulting and threatening to kill a male student, “a player who multiple sources told us had ties to area gangs,” Lavigne and Schlabach wrote, McCaw texted, “That would be great if they kept it quiet!”
Just this week, current Baylor AD Mack Rhoades told a Waco radio station that the previous regime did not conduct drug tests. “When I got to Baylor, we did not test,” Rhoades said. “We did not have any robust program. We implemented it. It was one of the 105 Pepper Hamilton recommendation. Now I can tell you this: that we would have implemented a policy whether or not that was a recommendation.”
Is it any wonder, then, why regents, through the Pepper Hamilton investigation, heard multiple cases of players “running a train” on women?
How could such a culture persist unchallenged at Baylor? One regent explained to 60 Minutes Sports last fall.
Art, in one sense, had us where we’ve never been before. We were winning, and things were awesome. I think our main problem was: it’s hard to mess up awesome. Nobody wanted to mess it up.
The signs that Baylor — both inside the football program and throughout the university — had a serious culture problem that would allow a sexual assault problem to fester where there. Anyone who looked hard enough could see them.
But no one in Waco wanted to look until it was too late.