Opinion: Best Bet for Baylor Is to Come Clean Quickly

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times


There is a maxim concerning scandal that is good to recall whenever really bad stuff happens.

Get the whole story out and get it out fast.

That rule especially applies if you are the one holding the information. And especially if you are at the center of that scandal.

It's a maxim that Baylor University should have applied long ago regarding the allegations of sexual assault centered around its football team, the cover up of the complaints regarding those assaults and of the complicity of its football coaches in orchestrating the cover up.

Instead, the story continues to drip, drip out, with each new revelation further damaging the school, calling into question whether its leadership is more concerned about the victims or the image of the school.

The latest came last week when the school released a series of text messages between former football coach Art Briles, a former staff member and the former athletic director, Ian McCaw.

From ABCollege Coaches on the Front Lines of Crisis Management

The subjects ranged from the arrest of a player for illegal alcohol consumption to an allegation that another player had "exposed" himself to a female masseuse and asked for "favors," and an allegation that a player had assaulted a student and threatened to kill him.

The sum of the texts was this message: Let's keep these things quiet. The sordid story began to emerge in 2015 with the conviction of one player for sexual assault.The questions about the school's handling of the case under Title IX requirements raised further questions.Reportorial investigations into the issue led to the school's regents commissioning a report from the Pepper Hamilton law firm.

The Pepper Hamilton report, when delivered in May, 2016, led to the firing of Briles. McCaw was suspended and thereafter resigned. President Ken Starr was removed from his post and he ultimately cut ties with Baylor.

The dramatic removals of the football coach -- a heretical move in a football-mad state -- the president and the athletic director seemed a fresh break from the usual denials and attempts to escape consequences that occur whenever scandal breaks out at colleges.The firings seemed to buy the school some good will, though the victims were still victims.

But as the months have gone on, university leaders have not been forthcoming about the full extent of what was reported to them. That allowed some supporters of Briles to question whether the firings were even justified. Some big-dollar donors were pressing for Briles' return.

There have been few details about just how many university employees knew about the sexual assault complaints, how many were involved in suppressing the information and who, in addition to Briles, McCaw and Starr, were prime actors in keeping the cases from reaching university and police authorities.

What the released text messages do is give a fuller picture of just how widespread knowledge of the complaints had become. Just what else is to come in the future can only be guessed. A lawsuit filed by a former student alleged that 31 players had been responsible for 52 rapes over a four year period.

Baylor has a great deal of resilience.The university saw a 19 percent increase in applications for early admissions in November. That is a testament to its academic standing with Texas families.

New coach Matt Rhule performed something of a minor miracle by recruiting a solid class of freshman football players though he had less than two months on the job. Rhule, who was the coach at Temple, has to be the biggest optimist on campus.

But the university will have a hard time ever getting past the shock and the disappointment that its alumni (including this alumnus), its students and supporters have undergone since the scandal first burst forth. Each new lawsuit, each new statement from the chief protagonists renews the sense of disillusionment and of violation of the scandal's victims.

Get the story out completely and get it out fast. That's what Baylor should have done right from the beginning when its leadership learned just how widespread and toxic the scandal was.Not only could the healing have started earlier, justice to the victims could have been done faster.

The taint of scandal would have been just as deep as it is now. But at least the school community would know just where to begin to repair that image and could be united at least in that cause.

Nick Jimenez has worked as a reporter, city editor and editorial page editor for more than 40 years in Corpus Christi. He is currently the editorial page editor emeritus for the Caller-Times. His commentary column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays.

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February 8, 2017


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