Let’s be very clear. There is NEVER a justification or an excuse for sexual assault on either a woman or a man. There is likewise NEVER a justification for domestic violence. You sexually assault or hit a woman, you’ve not only broken the law, you’ve forfeited any right to play college sports.
Let’s also be very clear. Sexual assaults on college campuses have been going on forever and they’ve been committed by not only student-athletes, but also students. In April of 1997, while working in television in Bluefield, we covered the case at Virginia Tech of former Running back Brian Edmonds and former Wide Receiver James Crawford being charged with raping a female student at on off-campus party in 1996. Neither of those guys ever played football for Virginia Tech again, although in all fairness Edmonds – who just died a couple of years ago – was already out of eligibility and missed only Virginia Tech’s 1996 bowl game. Former Virginia Tech quarterback Jim Drukenmiller was also charged with rape after his time as a student athlete was over (he was never convicted and went on his way to a crappy NFL career), but nothing tops the stupidity of former quarterback Marcus Vick, who allegedly had sex with a high school girl while playing at Virginia Tech. He’s still dealing with the ramifications of that decision.
And while, sexual assaults on college campuses have been happening forever, it’s come to the forefront this year with two very high profile cases. The latest example is the current dumpster fire happening at Baylor University. I’ll get there in a minute. But, first it was the University of Tennessee that grabbed unwanted attention earlier this year.
Six University of Tennessee female students have filed a Federal Title IX lawsuit against the University alleging that the school and in particular the athletic department covered up sexual assaults on campus, five of those allegedly committed by 5 student-athletes including former football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, and former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola. By the way, I saw Makanjuola play in his time at U-T. He couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie. That explains why after leaving U-T he would up at SIU-Edwardsville in Edwardsville, Illinois, a team that won 6 games this season.
Part of the allegations in the Tennessee lawsuit is that the school’s disciplinary process is heavily weighted toward athletes, and that the athletic department had a list of prominent Knoxville criminal defense attorneys to funnel the accused toward for representation. Those attorneys aren’t cheap, which begs the question how can a student-athlete afford those services? Trust me that will come out eventually and it won’t be pretty. One of the most damning allegations in the Tennessee suit is that football coach Butch Jones allegedly told one of the his players that he “betrayed the program” by trying to help the female who was allegedly assaulted by A.J. Johnson. Jones has, of course, denied that allegation. I have absolutely no doubt however that it is true because that cat is all about winning games, and if it is proven, Butch Jones can kiss his his ass goodbye.
Why do I say that? Well, let’s just look at Baylor where head coach Art Briles was fired after ESPN’s Outside the Lines Program reported on a culture of campus rapes involving football players at Baylor. Baylor has been accused of failing to respond to reports of rapes of 6 Baylor female students from 2009 – 2016. The report included an e-mail sent by one of the victim’s to Briles and President/Chancellor Ken Starr with the subject line that said “I was raped at Baylor”. This rape was allegedly committed by football player Tevin Elliott who is serving a 20 year sentence for rape in an unrelated incident. Another former football player Sam Ukwachu has also been convicted of rape. Ukwachu started his career at Boise State before being kicked out. The coach at Boise State told Baylor that Ukwachu was a punk, and Briles either didn’t check it out or didn’t care and took him anyway. That decision ultimately contributed to Briles’ demise in Waco. His example must serve as a lesson to all coaches who can no longer simply ignore red flags or accusations. It’s a new day for head coaches, but should one of their compatriots had to suffer a job loss for them to realize that basic common sense requires them to take these allegations seriously? Presumably, some of these coaches actually have daughters. Briles was so disconnected or just didn’t care that when asked about an incident last fall, he thanked the reporter for asking and then said that his team was getting ready for SMU.
Baylor is the largest Baptist faith-based university in the country. But, if Briles dismissal and the athletic director’s resignation wasn’t bad enough, nothing holds a candle to the absolute clown show that is former University President/Chancellor Ken Starr. Starr is a former Federal Appellate Court Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit (which confirms my suspicion that it doesn’t take a genius to be an appellate court judge), and the former special counsel whose investigation of former President Clinton and his Whitewater Investments not to mention his now famous relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky led to Clinton’s impeachment.
Starr was canned from his job as President after the ESPN report and an independent report from a law firm retained by the school reportedly showed the extent of the “culture problem” at the school. He remained as Chancellor and a Constitutional Law Professor at the Baylor Law School. Then last week he resigned as Chancellor and will stay on at the law school. After watching his performance in an interview with Waco television KWTX the other night, a Baylor law student would be wise to avoid this clown’s classroom.
During his interview with KWTX, Starr was asked by reporter Julie Hays about the e-mail from the student who claimed Elliott raped her. Starr responded by saying he may have seen the e-mail, and won’t deny he saw it. That’s the honest answer. The problem is that off-camera Starr had a Public Relations person named Merrie Spaeth helping him with the interview. Maybe she should have also provided him a sippy cup. Spaeth stopped the interview and said she needed to talk to Starr. After a brief caucus, the two returned. Spaeth told the reporter she needed to ask that question again and then had the audacity to tell KWTX’s news director to not use that first answer. He rightly declined. Hays asked the question again, and Starr changed his answer saying he had no recollection of that e-mail. He then turned to Spaeth to ask if that answer was okay? Seriously, you were a federal judge at one point? Unbelievably, he then answered with a third different story this time saying he had no recollection of the e-mail and that there were lots of e-mails that came to the President’s office that he never saw. To KWTX’s credit (and they deserve some type of journalistic award for this), they aired all three answers and didn’t editorialize leaving viewers to draw their own conclusion which is obvious: Ken Starr is an idiot, and he needs a new PR person. The PR rep wanted him to answer that he had no recollection because he’s about to be named a defendant in a Title IX suit and she was trying to protect him. The time to protect him was before the interview began and on that she failed miserably.
So, Baylor is a mess and in less than 100 days will be playing football again with a team that frankly could easily win the Big XII conference. And for all that Baylor has done wrong so far, here’s what they did get correct. The school hired Jim Grobe as the interim football coach. There will be no bullshit on Jim Grobe’s watch because there’s no bullshit with Jim Grobe.
Grobe is a native of Huntington, West Virginia who played college football for two years at tiny Ferrum College in Virginia (then a Junior College) for legendary coach Hank Norton before playing his final two years at the University of Virginia. Grobe literally worked his way up from the bottom. His first head coaching job was the head coach at Liberty High School in Bedford, Virginia. He stayed for two years before departing on a college coaching career serving as an assistant at Division III Emory and Henry, Marshall and Air Force. In 1995 he was named the head coach at Ohio before leaving for Wake Forest 2001. All he did at Wake Forest was go 11-2 in 2006 leading Wake Forest (yes, that’s Wake Forest) to an ACC Championship and a BCS Bowl Game. He resigned – under pressure – after the 2013 season and has spent the last two seasons working a little in television and fishing. He is honest when he says he regrets not leaving Wake Forest for Nebraska in 2007, but now he has a chance to make an impact at Baylor at a school that could use someone with his class. This won’t be easy. In addition to managing players he didn’t recruit and has no real connection with, he also is stuck with Briles’ staff which includes his son Kendall as the offensive coordinator. My instincts tell me that he’s going to get a chance at the head coaching job unless this season totally comes off the rails. And, if he stays, there’s no chance any of the assistants also remain employed. A house cleaning is in order, but you can’t do it now.
But for whatever Grobe does and for whatever steps Baylor takes going forward, it is obvious that in many ways college football – and college sports – has lost its way. It was designed to enhance the student’s experience by participating in sports. It’s became a means to the end especially in football where the NFL uses college football as its farm system. Cash is king and in no place is it greater than college sports.
There is no way that a college football coach is ever going to have a roster full of angels, but Tennessee and Baylor should stand as examples that part of molding young men is teaching them to respect themselves and others. A lot of these players have a sense of entitlement. Until that changes, we are going to continue to hear about incidents like these. If a coach wants to change his “culture” then one incident forfeits your right to be a part of the program, and if that one player is the difference between 10 wins and 6 wins, then before we sit back and complain about it, we might want to consider if our desire to see our team win at all costs isn’t part of the problem.