How Art Briles and Company Created a Horrifyingly Toxic Culture

How Art Briles and Company Created a Horrifyingly Toxic Culture

Are you ready for the understatement of the century? Here goes: Football—your favorite sport—has major issues with sexual violence, domestic violence, and relations with women.

The facts of the Baylor situation–which had more or less eluded the public until now–are horrifying and uncomfortable. Baylor’s findings of fact report revealed many disturbing occurrences, a few of which are listed below:

  • Actions of the “football staff and athletics leadership” posed a risk to campus safety
  • In some instances, including during multiple sexual assault allegations, football and athletics personnel “affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics”
  • “Football staff conducted their own untrained internal inquiries, outside of policy, which improperly discredited complainants and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation, interim measures or processes promised under University policy”
  • Coaches and staff took “affirmative steps to maintain internal control over discipline of players,” trying (and succeeding) in “actively divert[ing] cases from the student conduct or criminal processes”

Here’s a brief timeline of the events that led to Briles’ firing and Starr’s demotion:

2009: Tevin Elliott arrives at Baylor. In 2014, he is accused of sexually assaulting five different women. He is charged on two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

March 2012: Shawn Oakman (then at Penn State) grabs the wrist of a grocery store cashier in an altercation (Oakman had tried to steal a hoagie and a bottle of juice). After being dismissed by coach Bill O’Brien, Oakman transfers to Baylor.

January 2013: Oakman is named in an incident report for assaulting a woman. He “grabbed the alleged victim under her armpits and shoved her into brick walls and cabinets at her South Waco apartment.” No disciplinary action is taken by police or Baylor administration.

October 2013: Sam Ukwuachu (who transferred to Baylor after being dismissed from Boise State, supposedly for “erratic behavior“) is accused of raping a female Baylor soccer player. In August of 2015, he is found guilty and sentenced to 10 years of probation and 180 days in the county jail. Disturbingly, “the value of the female athlete’s scholarship at Baylor was reduced after the assault,” while Oakman (despite sitting out in 2013 and 2014) retains his full scholarship.

March 2016: Tevin Elliott’s victim files a Title IX suit with Baylor (naming Art Briles), claiming that the school had knowledge of Elliott’s “history of assaults,” as well as stating that the university had not done enough to protect her and other women and that Baylor had ignored her requests for help.

April 2016: Oakman is arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting after leaving a Waco nightclub. Oakman had graduated from Baylor and was preparing for the NFL draft.

I don’t believe in ‘isolated incidents.’ Think this behavior is exclusive to ex-coach Art Briles, his staff, and his players? Think again.

Of course, this is purely conjecture. However, there are 128 FBS football schools, and hundreds of other Division II and III programs. It’s no stretch to recognize that this may not be an isolated pattern of behavior. Art Briles and Co.’s scandal has shades of OU’s SAE incident in 2015, which was demonstrably not isolated.

This is not simply a problem with the game of football.  This is an athletic culture problem. The research of Jeff Benedict and Tedd Crosset, shows that although though male student-athletes constitute only 3.3% of the population, they account for “19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators.” One in three sexual assaults in college are committed by athletes.

That’s not to say the behavior is necessarily widespread, common, or related to football at all. It’s also not to say that your favorite player is  a rapist, or that your coach is an enabler of such behavior. However, the possibility of any or all of those being true should give us all pause. The toxic culture at Baylor should have every other program in the nation double- and triple-checking, because the microscope is now on them. CYA, if you will.

The one bit of good that may come of this is that athletic programs must now reconsider how they treat athletes compared to other students. Briles’ toxic culture will be a case study in exactly what not to do.

Writer Bob Cook, in writing about the infamous Steubenville Trial (in which two males, 16- and 17-years-old, were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl and distributing images afterward), discusses how easily ‘jock culture’ can morph into rape culture:

“…a rape culture can be created when adults send a signal that athletes are to be held in high esteem, and the athletes absorb the belief that as long as they are loyal to the team, the adults surrounding that team will look away from anything they do that can hurt it. A rape culture doesn’t require a rape to happen. (And when I say rape, I include the many gruesome cases of team-member-on-team-member violation often dismissed as “hazing.”) It merely is a culture ingrained into sports-playing youth that they get to do whatever they want, to whomever they want, with impunity. Rape culture is one gruesome step beyond jock culture.”

Sound anything like what’s happening at Baylor? The aforementioned high school males argued that they didn’t even know what rape was. They legitimately thought they had done nothing wrong. If this phenomenon can emerge at a high school level, it definitely happens on the college level.

The underlying issue is not about the sport of football. It’s not about loyalty, or for punishing a team for being successful, as some Baylor players have been tweeting about:

Baylor Bears linebacker Taylor Young takes to Twitter to defend Art Briles

Baylor Bears linebacker Taylor Young takes to Twitter to defend Art Briles


The crux of the issue is the toxic culture Art Briles and his staff created. Briles (and his staffers, administrators, and fellow coaches) repeatedly sent a strong message to all students: the success of our male athletes is more important than your safety. The bottom line is more important than your safety. Our image is more important than your safety.

The behavior of Baylor players isn’t just a mere black eye for the university: it’s incredibly dangerous and reprehensible, and there’s no telling how many lives have been affected.

Tevin Elliott, one of the Bears in question, had as many as five victims. One of his victims, during his trial, said Elliott’s assault made her feel like “nothing,” and that “when you feel like nothing, it makes you think that there is nothing for you left to love.” That’s what it feels like.

Is the sacrifice of basic human dignity worth three bowl wins and two conference championships? Ask Briles.

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