Viewpoint

At Baylor, too much emphasis on defense

Former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu takes the stand this month in Waco, Texas.
Former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu takes the stand this month in Waco, Texas. AP

On Aug. 21, a Baylor University football player named Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced to six months in the county jail and 10 years’ probation for sexually assaulting a freshman soccer player two years ago.

Although Ukwuachu pleaded not guilty to the charges, there wasn’t much doubt that “Jane Doe,” as she is referred to in court documents, had been raped. When she went to the hospital after the encounter, the examining nurse found “vaginal injuries, including redness, bleeding and friction injuries,” according to a powerful account in Texas Monthly. Jane Doe had been a virgin.

The day of Ukwuachu’s sentencing, Baylor’s president, Ken Starr – yes, the same Ken Starr who 17 years ago authored the lurid Starr Report about President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky – issued a letter to the Baylor community denouncing “this unspeakable tragedy.” He insisted that Baylor works “tirelessly” to provide a safe environment and that perpetrators of sexual violence “will find no shelter on our campus.”

And then on Friday, Starr issued another statement, in which he announced the university would hire outside counsel to conduct an investigation. He also said Baylor would hire a full-time official to oversee “all student-athlete behavior.”

I will address the absurdity of the latter role shortly. But first, it’s worth taking a closer look at the case, which says a lot about the relationship between Baylor and its football team, very little of it good.

Is football big at Baylor? You bet it is.

The importance of having a good football team – and many prognosticators believe Baylor will be very good indeed this season – may help explain why it was willing to accept Ukwuachu in the first place. A talented defensive end, he had been dismissed from the Boise State team for undisclosed reasons, and conflicting accounts over the past two weeks have failed to clarify what Baylor knew about Ukwuachu at the time of his transfer.

During the trial, Ukwuachu’s former girlfriend at Boise State testified that he had been violently abusive with her, and records recently obtained by ESPN show Boise State officials were alarmed by Ukwuachu’s erratic and even suicidal behavior. According to the records, three days after he was given a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder, Ukwuachu was dismissed from the team. (Boise State insists it had no knowledge of the domestic abuse allegations at the time of Ukwuachu’s move to Baylor.)

In October 2013, while sitting out a year as a transfer, as required per NCAA rules, Ukwuachu raped Jane Doe. To be blunt, Baylor seemed mainly interested in protecting its football player. According to Texas Monthly, after conducting a few cursory interviews, and not even asking to look at the hospital rape kit, the school “cleared” Ukwuachu, as his lawyer later put it.

Not that anybody knew this, because Baylor said nothing publicly, not even after Ukwuachu’s indictment. Starr was as complicit in the two-year-long silence as anybody in the Baylor athletic department, which makes his current “anguish” seem like little more than PR posturing.

But it’s at moments of crises like this one when people discover how a university, and its president, prioritizes athletics.

As for the idea that someone has to be hired to monitor the behavior of the school’s 500 athletes – how, exactly, does Baylor propose to do that, send chaperones on their dates? – shouldn’t the real issue be who the school admits in the first place, and how forthrightly it acts when problems emerge?

Indeed, judging by the Ukwuachu case, it’s not so much the athletes who need to have their behavior monitored.

  Comments