This past Saturday was filled with the usual slate of entertaining college football games. However, there was also a dark cloud hanging over proceedings and it once again emanated from Waco, Texas. As the Baylor Bears hosted the TCU Horned Frogs in Big 12 conference play, a faction of Bears fans decided that it would be a good idea to sell various pieces of merchandise with the hashtag #CAB, which stands for Coach Art Briles, on it.
There are so many things wrong with this, but let’s start here. There is no reason, none whatsoever, that Baylor fans should still be showing support for Art Briles. Briles presided over a football program that was found to have multiple players (19) implicated in a series of sexual assaults and he did nothing at all to stop it.
These are facts.
There’s no disputing that Baylor’s administration and Briles, were woefully inadequate at properly carrying out investigations into sexual assault and rape claims made against players from the football program.
Yet, still, there remains a faction of fans that support the former head coach and believe that he has been wrongfully terminated. It’s not even just the fan base. There are assistant coaches still on staff at Baylor who are left over from Briles staff who have fed this belief. His son, Kendal, is the one who started the CAB movement when he wrote the initials on his hands for the team’s first game this season. Then, in July, when new coach Jim Grobe invited Brenda Tracy, an anti-rape activist, to campus to talk to the football team and share her experience, she said one of the assistant coaches tried to convince her that “nothing had happened” at the university.
“The assistant coach, whom Tracy did not identify, spoke to Tracy for about 45 minutes, “trying to convince me that nothing had happened there,” she said. “That there was not a problem with football, that Art Briles did absolutely nothing wrong, and that this was a university problem. I felt he was trying to convince me of that, and wanted me to agree with him. I wouldn’t.”
Here’s the problem that these fans and assistant coaches are failing to comprehend: Briles, as the head football coach, is responsible for the conduct of his players on campus. Yes, the administration is at fault as well. However, the football coach in these situations is often the most powerful figure in town. Briles had both the power and the ability to live up to the institution’s Christian values and remove these players from the program and he failed to do so.
We saw a similar dynamic at play in Happy Valley, where Joe Paterno was elevated to an almost god-like status due to his ability to win football games. That seems to be the same problem that these fans and coaches are having. They can’t separate the success Briles was able to have on the field from the failures that he had in controlling his program and his players off the field.
Under Briles, the Baylor football program experienced a period of success that had been previously unheard of in the program’s history. The fans, the university administration, and the coaches themselves turned a blind eye to the problems that had been roiling under the surface because of that. The fan support for Briles spawned from that. A program starved of winning for so long had finally found a man who could lead them to prominence, so all other consequences be damned. There’s no question Briles is a good coach, but, supporting him in the wake of all that he oversaw while at the program, ignores the people who are affected most by this scandal: the victims.
Tracy said it best in the wake of Saturday’s game:
“I get that you like Art Briles, and that’s fine. You can think he’s a good football coach, but when you’re campaigning for him, you’re campaigning against these survivors. What you’re doing is so extremely hurtful.”
Baylor fans, listen to the victims. Show that you are living up to the Christian values that your university professes to uphold and preach. Don’t support or campaign for a man who allowed those values to fall by the wayside in the pursuit of winning football games.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.