It’s holiday time in the hinterlands, the day twangy fanboys celebrate decisions made by large and speedy children.
Happy National Signing Day. College football is restocking its ranks with formal commitments from high-schoolers after months of unctuous courtship, the culmination of thousands of text messages, unsanctioned campus parties and unfulfillable promises. The coaches haul up their nets like so many shrimp-trawlers, hoping to dump their catch on the deck to show needy fans and boosters another rich harvest that augurs happiness for all on Saturdays.
The players do their part, too, calling press conferences and posting homemade videos of reality-show reveals. They pick a hat, unveil a shirt or make some other show of their final choice to dramatize which multimillionaire coach successfully backstabbed his rivals to earn first crack at exploiting him for free labor by instructing him to smash into things.
When all is said and done, a significant percentage of today’s ballyhooed names will have either underperformed, transferred out, been run off of a scholarship by the next coach or sidelined by injury. And the handful of stars that pan out will leave school as soon as professionally possible.
You can forgive those of us not caught up in the festivities right now for being acutely aware of the juxtaposition of all this with the allegations presented in the latest lawsuit against Baylor, the school that has become an institutional villain in a fashion almost too outlandishly to be believed. A recent graduate’s accusations describe 52 rapes by 31 players there over four years, including five gang rapes.
What’s more, the suit says Baylor used the promise of sex to recruit as part of a “show ’em a good time” policy, even quoting an assistant coach’s come-on to a high-school target. “Do you like white women,” Kendal Briles allegedly said, “because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they love football players.”
Briles is the son of deposed head coach Art Briles, who oversaw his program’s rampant pillaging while selling books about his religious faith. Baylor is the distillation of all the elements that create stereotypical college football rape playgrounds: addiction to on-field success for financial gain, geographical isolation, a power structure designed for plausible deniability, and overt religiosity that acts simultaneously as a presumed moral shield and an impediment to honest confrontation when presented with disturbing facts.
It would be unfair to extrapolate Baylor in a way that tars the entire sport. But it would be naive to think that what happens there and elsewhere is not endemic to this process of rounding up young and overly empowered physical freaks with promises of riches and stardom, then placing them in a closed educational environment essentially at odds with their actual purpose. This is to understand fully that there are all kinds of Kendal Briles clones across the country fist-pumping today, knowing that their similar pitch succeeded.
Much of sports fandom will be riveted by signing news as the faxed signatures roll in, with many sad folks lashing out with Twitter vitriol against 18-year-olds. The colleges will assess the latest measuring stick of their arms race of tantalizing facilities, ready to cadge more millions from boosters to build fancier playpens of toys and games for “student-athletes.”
Some of us will just watch and stare and be content to never quite understand.