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Culture of Cowardice: What’s Really Surprising About Baylor Firing Art Briles

When looking back at Art Briles’s eight-year tenure at Baylor, remember this above all else: He contributed to a campus environment that facilitated sexual assault.

The Bears’ head coach was fired today in conjunction with the release of a damning report by the law firm Pepper Hamilton, the result of an investigation that began last August into whether university administrators and football team officials adequately complied with Title IX and took steps to limit sexual violence on campus.

To say they failed would be a gross understatement. Not only did Baylor lack standard institutional protocol; some employees actively hindered the school and legal authorities from properly handling cases. From the report:

Until recently, Briles was widely expected to retain his position. He went 65–37 since 2008 and led the Bears from the bottom of the Big 12 to the cusp of College Football Playoff contention, and his defenders pointed to the fact the football staff’s role in the events under investigation remained cloaked in rumor.

The Pepper report has made that role abundantly clear. Briles and his staff permitted players to operate with impunity: coaches routinely failed to report assaults and conducted their own investigations, the findings of which they hid from university administrators and legal authorities. Coaches and program officials, the report concludes, “reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules.”

Some findings from the report (emphasis added):

In essence: Briles accommodated a culture in which the safety of students (and of women, in particular) was ignored, and in which athletes (and especially football players) were allowed to do as they wished without fear of repercussions. The notion that it took Baylor until now to remove him is tragic.

Let’s not mistake his firing for some latent sense of justice; it’s readily apparent that Baylor acted mostly because of the heat of public scrutiny. Take away this month’s Outside the Lines investigation, which uncovered still more incidents of sexual assault involving Baylor football players — some, it appears, obscured with the assistance of Waco Police — and it isn’t difficult to imagine that Briles would have been allowed to keep his job.

For evidence of Baylor’s continued complicity, look no further than Ken Starr. Baylor’s Board of Regents relieved the university president of his duties, too — but it didn’t remove him entirely. Starr was demoted to chancellor and will continue to work with the law school. Athletic director Ian McCaw, meanwhile, received a lesser punishment: he was sanctioned and placed on probation.

And then there’s Briles. Eight seasons. Two Big 12 titles. A $266 million stadium. Untold hurt.

The shock is not that Art Briles was fired. It’s that, after all that happened under his watch, there was ever any doubt he would be.

This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 26, 2016.