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Now that the lawsuits are starting to get settled, Art Briles is making noise about coaching again. His attorney, Mark Lanier, told the Waco Tribune-Herald last week that schools had reached out to the former Baylor coach and practically predicted he'd be back on the sideline in 2018.

So it's a good time for another reminder of why that shouldn't happen -- not now, not ever.

As it happens, that reminder arrives Tuesday in the form of Violated, a new book co-authored by ESPN reporters Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach that offers the most comprehensive account to date of the Baylor sexual assault scandal that brought down Briles, school president and chancellor Ken Starr and athletics director Ian McCaw among others.

Briles, in many ways, isn't even the book's main character. As Lavigne's and Schlabach's reporting makes clear, the problems at Baylor were too big and complex to be pinned on one villain, one football team or even one department.

But the role Briles played in aiding and abetting the rotten culture at Baylor -- and his lack of answers for how to fix it -- should be disqualifying for him to ever work in college athletics again. Although he did not agree to be interviewed for the book, there are more than a dozen pages worth of specific, damning details about how Briles took on players with sketchy histories, actively intervened on their behalf at times to keep them out of trouble and insulated himself at other times from knowledge that might have led Baylor on a different disciplinary course.

Although the book does not provide a smoking gun on Briles' culpability in covering up sexual assaults, it cites numerous text and email exchanges in which he clearly attempts to keep potential disciplinary problems in-house before they became public.

From AB: Baylor Fires Football Coach Art Briles

"I really think it was a window into how he was operating the program and how he was trying to skirt players getting into the drug program and the administration finding out about incidents and even trying to keep things away from the police," Schlabach told USA TODAY Sports. "It was really eye-opening into how internal his discipline really was."

As Lavigne and Schlabach make clear, Briles is by no means the only guilty party in what happened at Baylor. The book spends less time talking about the pitfalls of a suddenly ascendant football program under Briles than failures of police both on and off campus, the overall culture of the deeply religious Baptist school and the collective naiveté of its leaders with regard to sex and alcohol among college students, which allowed dysfunction and incompetence to metastasize.

"I think there are a lot of people who were ignorant, who didn't want to know, and for the longest time there wasn't anyone truly tasked with being responsible," Lavigne said in a phone interview. "I can't say it was passing the buck, because that would imply the buck started or stopped somewhere. Things were pretty disorganized until a few years ago."

While the book details the stories of several victims, beginning with a gut-wrenching account of Jasmin Hernandez's rape in 2012 at the hands of former Baylor football player Tevin Elliott, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence, those who have followed the Baylor situation closely since 2015 will find the final third of the book perhaps the most compelling.

In it, Lavigne and Schlabach put together the most complete account yet of Baylor's commissioning of the Pepper Hamilton law firm's investigation, how its report was compiled and the process that led to the board of regents' decision to fire Briles on May26, 2016, along with a vague release of the investigation's findings.

Even today, there's widespread dissatisfaction with the process. Some parties within the Baylor community are convinced Briles was made into a scapegoat and want to know specifically why he was fired. Others, including the Big12 and government agencies in Texas, have pushed for more transparency about what was discovered and how bad it was. And, perhaps most of all, there are victims still looking for justice.

But there's no doubt the book gives voice to all those elements and explains, through regents who spoke both on and off the record, why Baylor did what it did. Though elements of the story are changing to this day, this is a definitive, comprehensive narrative of the scandal as it stands and into the future as the school implements sweeping changes in hopes of correcting mistakes.

"They have put in place the infrastructure to do that. They have added more counselors, more training, they've replaced personnel," said Lavigne, who pointed out they were not granted an interview with new President Linda Livingstone but were encouraged by the investment of new athletics director Mack Rhoades and football coach Matt Rhule.

"I think time will tell whether or not the cultural change that they have promised to strive for will actually happen."

As for Briles, though, it's hard to see a path for his redemption in this. While his public apologies are noted and surely heartfelt, any potential employer who reads Violated will come away with the impression of a coach whose program invited dangerous characters onto campus with little or no vetting, didn't have a drug testing program and allowed a culture of invincibility to grow with regard to conduct.

Just as troubling is that when it came time for the board of regents to meet with Briles before deciding his fate, Lavigne and Schlabach describe a scene in which he apologized for the problems but left the impression he had no plan for how to fix them. Why would it be any different now?

If there's anything coaches should take from the Baylor scandal, it's that the days of handling discipline the way Briles did -- sweeping it under the rug, keeping things internal and not having a system of reporting to superiors -- need to be over.

"It was definitely eye-opening, because I think there were people in the room that didn't want to fire Art Briles, but they also felt like they had to have somebody in charge who could fix the problems, and it was pretty clear the guy was nothing but a football coach," Schlabach said. "It just felt like it was the end of the game, where he made a bad play call and said, 'It won't happen again.' I don't think he really understood the gravity of the problems and really just wouldn't admit to what had happened under his watch."

Violated is a heavy read, but it's important work by Lavigne and Schlabach, who were at the forefront of reporting the story as it unfolded in real time. Though in many ways it feels from the outside as if Baylor is on a better trajectory and much of the world has moved on from the scandal, the book reminds us why it can't be forgotten. And why Briles shouldn't be on a sideline anytime soon.

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August 21, 2017
 
 
 

 

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