Baylor craved a national football reputation – instead it’s drowning in repeated mistakes – Dallas Morning News (blog)

6 months ago Comments Off on Baylor craved a national football reputation – instead it’s drowning in repeated mistakes – Dallas Morning News (blog)
Baylor University has craved a national football reputation as long as I can remember. But at this cost? (DMN photo)

Baylor University has craved a national football reputation as long as I can remember. But at this cost? (File Photo/Staff)

By once again ducking behind its “the-report-is-yet-to-come” PR strategy — and refusing to answer questions about the latest (you need a scorecard to keep up) alleged assault by a Baylor football player — my alma mater gives every critic room to fill in the blanks to his or her liking.

That strategy feels more ridiculously wrongheaded and fraudulent with every new report of alleged misdoing.

The latest involves Monday’s revelation about accusations made to Waco police in 2013 against defensive standout Shawn Oakman, who just last season finished his Baylor football career. This is the second time in April that Oakman’s name has been linked to assault allegations: Earlier this month, still in Waco as he prepares for the NFL draft, Oakman was accused of attacking a woman he met at a nightclub. (Here’s the latest on where things stand with the April arrest.)

News about the 2013 accusations — and Waco Police Department statements that  officers might well communicate informally with Baylor officials in such a case — led us all back to the administration to try to get a simple answer to a simple question: Did anyone at the school know of the allegation?

And again Baylor is hiding behind the “university cannot address any specifics of any individual case,” citing federal privacy laws. Baylor is simply taking the most expansive, and sketchy, reading of that statute to hide the facts. But exactly how long does Baylor think it can hide this stench?

What began as a small cesspool has spread into a full-blown swamp. Does the administration not see that Baylor’s reputation — not to mention its fundraising and its enrollment — are drowning in this unseemly episode? And, more important, what does this kind of non-response do for the safety of its students?

When we first got a whiff of the cesspool back in August, it was in regard to the Sam Ukwuachu trial and what a reasonable person might consider a cover-up of his impending sexual assault trial by the Baylor athletic department.

Maybe with one public incident, Baylor thought it didn’t need much of a PR strategy. But then the number of allegations grew … and grew … and national outfits such as ESPN came calling.

This morning, listening to The Ticket Musers devote an entire segment of the most popular hour of North Texas’ most popular morning radio show to Baylor’s reproachful behavior, I was struck by the comparisons Craig Miller and George Dunham made between what’s allegedly happening on the Waco campus and what happened near the end of Barry Switzer’s time at the University of Oklahoma.

And I remembered what I wrote last August: “Sexual assault case proves football has gotten too big at Baylor.” Sadly, these past nine months or so have done nothing but add evidence to my first commentary.

What parent would consider sending a child to Baylor next fall when the university hides behind this months-long investigation — an investigation that it says it might or might not make some parts of public? And what would-be donor can feel good about sending money to a school conducting itself so shabbily?

Baylor’s circle-the-wagons response is not unique to one school. It’s what lots of people and institutions do when the tide runs against them. (You need look no farther than the dubious strategy of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has faced a growing number of controversies since taking office. Paxton, coincidentally, is a Baylor grad. Is “backing one’s self into a corner” a required course down there these days?)

Baylor students are increasingly expressing frustration with their administration’s responses. The Waco Tribune Heraldwrote another commendably tough editorial about the issue in today’s paper.

My email inbox is showing a shift: fewer fans who want me to leave Baylor’s football team alone and more self-identifying Baylor students and alums who believe someone needs to be fired over this – and not a lower-level fall guy.

The Tribune Herald has submitted open records requests to try to find out what Baylor won’t reveal: What did Waco police tell Baylor employees, if anything, in the aftermath of the 2013 incident report involving Oakman? (That accusation was subsequently dropped because the claimant decided not to press charges.)

While Baylor Coach Art Briles hasn’t returned calls seeking specific information, he recently responded to a general question about the sexual assaults that have occurred on the football team by saying, “I’m always concerned anytime when anything of that nature transpires.”

Oakman apparently didn’t get the message in his last year on the squad. Why are we to believe that anything trumps fielding a winning football team heading into August?

Only when Coach Briles and Baylor President Ken Starr get concerned enough to step out and tell us the full story about what happened in the past will we believe their statements that they are dealing with it appropriately now. We can only hope such a plan for an extended answer-all-questions interview is in the works.