As a double Baylor alumnus I have been disheartened at the recent news and information concerning my alma mater. That university officials would systematically permit sexual abuse in order to maintain a favorable public image for a winning football program is evil. And yet, having grown up in football-crazed Texas, I am sad to say that I am not entirely shocked that this occurred. Perhaps this is the most disheartening reality of all.
I remember attending a parent-player meeting for my high school athletics program where a department official discussed consequences for illegal and immoral behavior during the upcoming calendar year. As the official read from a printed handout, the list went something like this: Theft would result in automatic suspension from team membership. Marijuana use would result in automatic suspension from team membership. Alcohol use would result in a one game suspension from team membership.
I remember nudging my dad at this statement and mouthing the words, “Can you believe this?” He shushed me and told me get real. After all, he said, high school students were going to be drinking and I needed to check into reality and not be so legalistic.
I remember thinking at that time that this was an egregious act of cowardice on the part of the athletic department, because it indicated something of a law outside of the law for high school athletics. My experience in the upcoming seasons of athletics only served to bear out this reality. Simply put, if you were a stud athlete, you could break certain rules, by which other non-stud athletes had to abide.
I wish that high school athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do. I wish that college athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do. Heck, I wish that professional athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do.
So that brings us back to Baylor. What exact lessons should we be taking away from the findings of Pepper Hamilton? Here are a few from my perspective:
- The world needs more leadership, not control. And there is a difference. Leadership says, “Here is the vision of where we want to go, here are the values that drive us, here are the steps and strategies that will get us there, and here are the leaders that will help us achieve our vision.” Control says, “We have a machine that is moving, a status quo to maintain, and a visible personality to perpetuate. Therefore, maintain at all costs.” Baylor seems to have entered into troubling waters when it chose controlling the momentum over and against upholding the values inherent in the vision. Transparency early on would have perhaps cost Baylor some wins in the short term. But if the vision was true, then it would have worked out any way — meaning that being a bit more transparent would have been beneficial in the long run.
- Always side with the victim. Always. When someone says they are being bullied, when someone says they have been raped, when someone says they have been victimized, what is the harm in believing them to be honest until proven a liar? Logically speaking, there is always a greater cost of not believing a victim. And Baylor has learned that the hard way.
- This isn’t a uniquely Baylor thing. This is a college-wide thing. Baylor is on the news at the end of May in 2016 because they did something that no other college has done. I am not talking about covering up rape — Florida State has done that in just as evil of a manner. Baylor is in the news because they did something unique — they chose to become transparent when they could have easily continued to cover up. In this way, I am proud that Baylor has chosen to do the right thing after years of doing the wrong thing. While I wish that Baylor had done the right thing from the start, I will have to settle for Baylor doing the right thing starting now.
- This isn’t a uniquely college thing, this is an all of life thing. If today you are under the impression that athletics is the only arena where permissive rule breaking occurs, you are as sadly mistaken and naive as I was in that athletic meeting. This kind of permissive system of evil occurs daily on places like the financial districts of Wall Street, board rooms in corporate headquarters, back rooms of Silicon Valley startups, and leadership meetings in church communities. Any place that has human beings trying to gain and control success is going to have the temptation to look the other way. In this way, I hope that Baylor is providing a template on how to come clean after being so dirty for so long.
- Money and Government may still be our idols. It is unfortunate that threat of legal suit and Title IX blowback may have actually been the leading catalysts for this come to Jesus meeting at Baylor. It still seems that in 2016, we are still more fearful of legal repercussions and government intervention than of the wrath of God. What I read in the Pepper Hamilton report is the use of moral (read Biblical) language to characterize a failure to do the legal thing and failure to do the governmental thing. I understand many of the technicalities of this brief and do not fault PH or Baylor. Still, it would have been nice of a Christian university to give a timeline like this: “We were in a season of confession and prayer as a staff and when we came across this issue we realized that we were collectively out of sync with the Holy Spirit over this issue of sexual assault. Thus, we hired an outside firm to help us to be more accountable to Jesus and to our values.” Maybe I am still too naive.