Friday, June 3, 2016

June 03, 2016
It is not often that some guy writing for a fan-centric website gets the opportunity to write a piece that can have some sense of impact. It is difficult, at times, to write about certain topics because everyone seems to be jumping on the same story. Such was the case with the baylor football scandal that unraveled just last week when the university fired their coach, demoted their President and censured their athletic director.

From there, the unraveling has seemingly continued. Recruits are backing out of their commitments in droves, Ken Starr resigned as Chancellor, the athletic director resigned. To a man, they seem to have completely ignored the real problem with even more continued denials. It is really rather sad as these grown men continue to blame others for their own lack of action and ignorance to the problem.

The statement by Briles basically accusing the Baylor Board of Regents of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of a document; accusing Pepper Hamilton of creating a facsimile of a pre-conceived notion is exactly the kind of action which led to this scandal in the first place.

Denial. it is a strong force in so many societal issues.

I have spoke with Briles in the past. He is an engaging man, he really does love his family, he really does love being a football coach, and he really was a Baylor lifer as football coach. The 'big boys' came calling and were summarily rebuffed. But arrogance is imprudent when it relates to matters off the field. There are times when humility carries far more power than arrogance and denial.

the denial extended to Starr who simply said (repeatedly) that the assaults did not happen on campus as if that somehow made a difference. Football players sexually assaulted women and were allowed to continue playing football. They were allowed to continue being on a campus. Coaches knowingly talked young women out of filing complaints; complaints were repeatedly ignored, dismissed or covered up. When a university president and its football coach allow a young man that they know has sexually abused a woman - it is irrelevant whether that assault happened on or off campus. Allowing him to continue attending classes makes the campus unsafe; it makes the university unsafe.

Last week I wrote another piece on this story in my Flock Talk series. I called it 'Flock Talk: The Oregon Way"

No program is perfect; no university is perfect. We all have our warts and sometimes those warts are exposed. Despite warts and flaws, one thing that the Oregon football team has done over the course of the last seven seasons is change their entire approach to recruiting. Early on in this process, we focused much of our attention on the national approach; getting players from all corners of the country. Of late, though, what has begun to emerge is that this approach was not merely to get 'better' players, but better people. Oregon has become notorious for taking longer to make offers to some players who seem to be slam dunk college athletes. At Oregon, it seems, the coaches do not care about stars and focus on those factors off the field in combination with those on the field.

Is the Oregon Way the only 'good' way to recruit? Maybe. At least, that was my point a week ago. Each university has their own process, but it is that process which must be evaluated against the mission of the university rather than simply a function of the number of wins.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power. Abraham Lincoln 

The Oregon Way. A phrase that has been thrown around for several years; it implies teamwork, discipline, integrity, character and dedication. This is a mantra that is thrown around at many places. Oftentimes, when a highly sought after recruit is either not offered, or not pursued with the vigor some believe he should be, this Oregon Way is questioned. Frequently citing the lagging behind of national powers like Alabama and Ohio State, fans get worried – they lament the loss of talent focused on what may be lost; wins.

Last week, however, we saw just why the Oregon Way is not only the right way, but why it should be the only way; at every school. Think that the vetting process is too slow and cumbersome? Imagine the fallout had Oregon been in Baylor’s shoes.
This is not to say that the Oregon Way is perfect – Chip Kelly walked a very fine line when dealing with Will Lyles. So fine a line, in fact, that it cost Oregon a lot of opportunity. There were losses in scholarships, official visits and evaluation days for the last four years. While the cost was not as steep as those suffered elsewhere, at a school like Oregon, not in close proximity to fertile, talent-laden recruiting grounds and a difficult city to reach on visits, the setbacks were more than minor hindrances. And they were a necessary curb to a dangerous practice.

Oregon played in the muck and mud and took a scalding hot bath as a result. The Ducks escaped with their reputation as in-tact as possible. When you walk the line between right and wrong too tightly, the opportunity for missteps is enhanced and exacerbated. See Baylor Football. See Baylor basketball.

Many lament the dismissal of three basketball players from Oregon as a heavy handed over reaction to what was perceived as a false claim. In retrospect, maybe it was not such an over-reaction after all. Had the university cleared the players to return, and one more incident occurred, Oregon could have very easily found their basketball program under the same microscope of scrutiny currently enveloping Baylor.

Some will call this a football problem; others a societal problem. The truth is that this is both – it is a football and societal problem. Statistically speaking, football players have a lower rate of violence and crime than the general population, but they also have higher visibility. Like it or not, Charles
Barkley was wrong all those years ago – athletes do have a higher responsibility.

There is a far too prevalent thought among the general population that ‘jocks,’ and football players in particular, are violent; especially toward women. Call it the Ray Rice syndrome. That is what most non-sports fan see – the bad news, the ugly news. Stuffed somewhere at the end of news segments will be feel good stories; but Ray Rice is a lead story. Baylor football will be a lead story. The bad always takes the spotlight. This is why a fundamental approach that focuses on character and integrity is far more valuable in the long run than focusing on wins.

This is where Baylor really failed. The program did what has been done on college campuses for far too long; they denied, pointed fingers and buried the story. The wins kept coming, along with the lies. The program had an opportunity to lead and chose instead to follow. Football is a big part of American culture. We consider Saturdays and Sundays practical holidays. We gather, we drink, we eat, we tell stories, we laugh, and we cheer. Super Sunday is usually the most watched program of the year in America – football is more than just a game; it is more than just entertainment. It is those and more; it has become a part of our identity.

With that place at the forefront of culture, football continues to fail society by continuing its lack of recognition for those problems that are pervasive across the nation. From Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens doing everything possible to cover up a brutal assault to the Baylor scandal one thing has remained constant; denial.

We preach that football teaches leadership and teamwork; but that leadership was missing as multiple reports of multiple attacks were covered up. It cost men their jobs. Many good people consider these men to be good men; men who have given tremendous dedication to making lives better. And yet they still stand before us as examples of men who failed. Failed their players and failed to protect the innocent. They failed us; they failed their program and they failed those young men and women whose lives are forever changed.

Winning is everything. A slogan from a bygone era when football was a small diversion played in the mud. Before the game was a cultural phenomenon; before 280 million dollar apparel contracts; before billion dollar television deals. Those days are gone. Winning is not everything. Martin Luther King once pleaded for America to find value in the content of a man’s character. Truer words cannot be spoken more eloquently today. Let us put aside the 'wins are all that matters' thoughts and remember that character is the real goal of man and should be the real goal of college athletics.

Baylor focused on wins in the short term. Glory. Power. And they lost. Over the long course of a program, wins and losses will happen; but character is no accident. Integrity is no accident.
Lament the loss of truly talented players who would have fit the Oregon Way; but do not lament the Way itself. Recruiting with character builds a program with character. Wins are fleeting – character lasts forever.


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