Baylor’s latest trouble stems from the shameful culture Art Briles created
At the very least, you have to give Baylor this: The Bears football program sure knows how to stay in the news. You’ve probably heard that old saying All press is good press though when it comes to Baylor football that is definitely not the case, especially in the last two years.
In what has become a disgusting and disturbing trend, news Monday night yet again proved that some associated with Baylor football continue to treat women as pawns in a sick game instead of actual people. The Bears’ recently hired strength and conditioning coach, Brandon Washington, was arrested in a prostitution sting over the weekend, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. Though this incident can’t be pinned squarely on former coach Art Briles—Washington was a hire of new coach Matt Rhule, following Rhule from Temple—it is yet another example of the shameful culture surrounding Baylor.
If you’re a Bears fan you’re thinking, “When are my guys gonna catch a break?” If you’re just a college football fan you’re thinking, “When are these guys going to catch a clue?”
To Rhule and Baylor’s credit, Washington was fired immediately according to the Tribune-Herald. The university issued a statement that read, “After a full criminal background check was completed and cleared, Brandon Washington was recently hired as an assistant in the Football Strength and Conditioning area. Baylor was notified on Feb. 4 of Brandon Washington’s arrest and terminated his employment immediately that day.” Rhule added that upon his hiring he’d made “a commitment to character and integrity in our program,” and that he would not tolerate actions that ran contradictory to that mission and commitment.
Those words, character and integrity, haven’t been associated with the leadership of Baylor football in the recent past, so it’s a welcome change. It still takes a little shine off Rhule, who had thus far been projecting a golden boy image since being hired on Dec. 6. Rhule cleaned house once he arrived at Baylor, and put together an impressive recruiting class despite having just one verbal commitment when he first took the job. He’s answered questions about the scandal with grace, acknowledging the victims and recognizing that as the head coach, he is not only the last line in decision-making, but also the public face of a program with a major PR problem. Initially considered a puzzling hire because of his lack of Texas ties, Rhule seems to be the right fit.
Rhule is not to blame for the moronic decision by one of his assistants. Certainly Washington, who worked for Alabama for two years before going to Temple, knows the difference between right and wrong at age 33 years. And yet …
I go back to Briles, and the culture he created and enabled. His continued refusal to apologize, in detail, for what happened, or even own his role in everything that happened, is galling. The damning details released last week in response to a lawsuit showed just how willing Briles was to cover up crime after crime. He certainly had his players’ backs, even if those players had no business playing college football. Now, even with Briles’ dismissal, the program is awash in scandal, imploding as more information comes out about how acceptable violence, and particularly violence against women, was under Briles’ watch. In the wake of two recent lawsuits and the response to them, some are calling for the NCAA to give Baylor the death penalty. How clueless—or arrogant—do you have to be to walk into a program drowning in misogyny and then be involved in illicit sexual activity?
Yes, Washington should, and does, know better. There is no excuse for the choice he made, and hopefully he will not work again in any sort of educational environment as a result. But the larger picture and problem involves the environment in Waco, and what people think they can get away with. In the immediate aftermath of Briles’ firing, reporters and college football pundits across the country talked about how Briles’ dismissal was a warning shot to coaches everywhere. Schools were finally starting to take violent athletes seriously, and there would be big consequences if coaches didn’t follow suit.
Has that fear already evaporated? Are coaches back to the win at all costs mentality? The latter certainly seems to ring true with the hiring of three Baylor assistants at other Division I programs around the country. Washington’s arrest implies that even new people at Baylor don’t realize the Bears’ athletic department—and really, the city of Waco—is under a microscope. Still, it’s more than just being on your best behavior. It’s about integrity.
I’m not one of the people calling for Baylor to get the death penalty. Despite the obvious problems with the previous regime, I do believe there are good kids in that program and at that school who represent the best of Baylor, and college athletics in general. I don’t think we should write them all off.
I do think that as more unsettling information trickles out about what happened during Briles’ reign—and sometimes, what happens after it, because of an obvious cultural problem—it’s clear that this is Briles’ legacy. This is what he will always be tied to. Soon, no one will talk about how many games he won, or how he turned a cellar-dweller into a powerhouse. They’ll talk only about the horrors that happened under his watch, and how long it’s taking to undo them.