While Baylor is doing everything it can to present a public image that its football program is proceeding normally toward another season in which it is expected to contend for a national title, the off-field stories that continue to trickle out get more and more disturbing.
And it’s hard to imagine that apologies and procedural changes will be enough to answer for what now appears to be a full-blown, systemic scandal within the culture of Baylor football.
In addition to numerous incidents that have shown how violent behavior by players in Art Briles’ football program was handled (or not handled) by coaches, and an ongoing investigation into how the school has generally dealt with claims of sexual assault, ESPN’s Outside the Lines uncovered several other disturbing allegations.
Among them was a former Baylor student claiming she had been assaulted by former Bears running back Devin Chafin on two occasions in 2014 but that he was not disciplined in any way despite Briles, school president Ken Starr and the team chaplain being made aware of the allegations. Though police reports were filed including photos of bruises on her arm, according to Outside the Lines, she did not press charges and Chafin played nine games that season. The woman told ESPN the law firm conducting the independent review of Baylor, Pepper Hamilton, did not contact her.
Another jarring passage in ESPN’s report describes a 2011 altercation involving numerous football players at an off-campus party in which three were ultimately charged with misdemeanor assault. According to Outside the Lines, the Waco police locked the incident report in an office and pulled it from the computer system to shield it from public inquiry.
It suggests, at minimum, that there could be an inappropriate cooperative relationship between how local police handle cases involving Baylor players and the athletic department. There was other reporting done by OTL that suggested some students declined to press charges for violent incidents because they felt as if nothing would come of it due to their counterparts' status as football players.
When you combine it with what has already been revealed publicly about the way Baylor has been operating — including the Sam Ukwuachu sexual assault allegation from 2013 and subsequent conviction last year and recent charges aimed at star defensive end Shawn Oakman — this is metastasizing into a major mess for Baylor.
The school’s board of regents received a briefing last week from the law firm hired to conduct its external review, but because the school is private it is not required to make that document public. Asked during a radio interview Monday on 99.1 FM in Waco whether the report’s contents would raise any concerns about people in the Baylor athletics department losing their jobs, director of athletics Ian McCaw responded: “I haven’t heard anything along those lines.”
But even for all the winning Baylor has done the past five years, it’s simply unthinkable that a serious university — especially one that still has scars from the tragic basketball scandal in 2003 — would allow people who have allowed this kind of pattern to continue working on their campus.
Maybe the report will absolve Briles of all wrongdoing and the school will be able to justify in some way that this is all the fault of local police while promising to do better. But this isn’t just one or two incidents; it’s now a string of serious allegations that prompt significant questions about how alleged victims at Baylor are treated and whether football players actually face consequences or are allowed to glide through muddy legal waters.
Ever since the details of the Ukwuachu situation came to light, it has been fair to ask whether Baylor’s approach to discipline and the kind of characters Briles has brought to campus have systematically put students in danger.
With each new story, there are more and more details that suggest the answer is yes.