Opinion: NCAA Seeks Progress on Abuse Issue

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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)


Violence against women has been NCAA-ized, which typically means a lot of vague, lawyerly language and the strong prospect of nothing actually being accomplished.

But I still sensed progress Thursday after leaving Governor's Ballroom C-D in the Gaylord Opryland Resort, having listened to an hourlong NCAA session entitled "Combating Sexual Violence" and then talked for more than an hour to an embattled administrator.

Hundreds packed the room, taking up every seat and standing along the walls on both sides of the room. They heard some ideas on targeting the root causes of sexual violence, and they heard some generalities on commissions and resolutions, but at least the issue has sustained momentum.

It has a face, too, and Brenda Tracy is up to that responsibility. She was the direct talker on that stage, frank about being gang-raped in 1998 by Oregon State football players and the years of pain it caused her, and impassioned about the need to mobilize men.

"If women could have stopped violence and sexual assault," Tracy said, "we would have already done it."

Education and attacking what Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, called "toxic masculinity" are front-end solutions. In the entitled and often twisted world of big-time college athletics, so is eliminating all trace of using women as a recruiting enticement.

The question I have is on the back end, the "institutional and individual accountability" that will be explored by an NCAA commission created in August - the full name is the NCAA Board of Governors Commission To Combat Campus Sexual Violence.

As badly as strong punishments are needed to deter bad behavior, I hope we don't forget that each case is unique, and that second chances have value. I hope we don't go overboard and wipe out everyone accused of anything in this realm.

And I hope we judge coaches and administrators at a higher standard than we judge athletes. Tracy has been outspoken in her criticism of Texas coach Tom Herman after he hired former Baylor staffer Casey Horny.

Herman said Friday, per the Dallas Morning News, that Horny is a "fantastic father to his wonderful daughters" who was "vetted very rigorously," and Herman also referenced some "uninformed and regrettable tweets" that Horny posted in support of former Baylor head coach Art Briles.

Tracy's response on Twitter: "Unacceptable."

When it comes to Baylor, and the disgusting meddling some of Briles' coaches and staffers that got them fired, it's hard to justify more chances. I don't care how many tears Briles squeezes out in disingenuous TV interviews, he should never coach again.

That's consequence and deterrent. And any of his people at Baylor known to be involved should be viewed the same way. There's no justification for adults to disregard human life like that.

Second chances for young people can be trickier. When the grotesque 2014 video of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon punching student Amelia Molitor became public in December, Tracy sent an email to Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione and football coach Bob Stoops. (Mixon, now off to the NFL, was suspended for the 2014 season and played the past two.)

Tracy told them "your program looks really terrible right now - and justifiably so," but also that this was an opportunity to make things right with tougher policies moving forward. She talked to both men shortly afterward, and on Thursday she sat next to Castiglione on the stage in the Opryland ballroom.

Other than the Oklahoma fans who watched that video and determined Mixon was defending himself, the obvious reaction is to ask why Mixon was allowed to stay at Oklahoma. That was my reaction. Castiglione, under siege in the past month, talked for an hour after the session with another reporter and me, on and off the record.

The discussion didn't change my mind, but there were things about the incident I didn't know and hadn't considered. It's rarely as simple as it seems.

The next case like Mixon probably results in a fast dismissal. It's hard to argue otherwise. But it might just mean sending a problem to another place that is less-equipped to deal with it.

"We don't get to go back and re-evaluate," Castiglione said. "So we gave (Mixon) a very strict path and he chose that and has tried to become a better and a stronger person because of that. And we just hope that he continues to grow from that experience and become an even stronger person."

That answer won't satisfy many. We need to think more of the victims, less of the "redemption" of the athletes. We have a long way to go. At least we're still going.

Contact Joe Rexrode at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.


joe rexrode

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