NORMAN — Bob Stoops was quite a bit more forthcoming Tuesday than most expected.
It was widely anticipated that Stoops would clam up during his pre-Sugar Bowl press conference whenever he got his first question about Sunday’s report in the Tulsa World regarding wide receiver Dede Westbrook’s two domestic violence arrests in 2012 and 2013 and the university’s efforts to continue recruiting Westbrook in 2014 despite an alarming trend of accusations and arrests for violence against women by OU football players.
Some even figured Stoops might just refer to the school’s statement printed in the report.
Instead, Stoops talked. A little, but he talked. And that’s good. This is a conversation that needs to continue.
The press conference was 25 minutes in and topics had turned to the personal growth of various players. So, in light of Sunday’s report, I asked Stoops about Westbrook’s personal growth during his time in Norman.
“Yeah, all I know is everything he’s done here has been everything positive,” Stoops said. “Grades, never missing class, appointments, everything that he’s done has been excellent.”
That’s not entirely accurate. In fact, just last May, Westbrook was arrested again in his hometown of Cameron, Texas, on charges of criminal trespass. The newspaper report on Sunday detailed two previous arrests for family violence, one when he was 18 and the other when he was 19.
“And from what I understand and have seen,” Stoops continued, “he’s got a great relationship with his children and the mother of their children. They’re raising them back and forth together and that has been nothing but great since I’ve known him.”
It might be more accurate to call Westbrook’s relationship with the mother of his first two children toxic, or at best complicated. Everyone being on their best behavior in Stoops’ presence doesn’t warrant a “great relationship.”
The issue today, however, isn’t even Westbrook. It’s the University of Oklahoma.
OU says they didn’t know of any legal entanglements involving Westbrook during the recruiting process.
“Nothing was reported in this case,” according to an OU statement in the paper.
But a basic Google search of Westbrook’s full name — Decrick Deshawn Westbrook — immediately produces two arrest reports of the Milam County Jail Log in the Rockdale Reporter in Rockdale, Texas, 20 miles south of Cameron.
In the field of performing background checks on prospective student athletes, Oklahoma was out front nationally a decade ago, hiring private investigators to vet recruits.
But in this case — particularly given the horrors on and around the OU campus in 2014 — OU’s investigative team could have done so much more.
“We have extensive background checks,” Stoops said. “I’m not part of that. So, again, I’m not sure how that happened. But we do a thorough job and it’s helped us on many occasions to make different choices. In the end, how that happened, I can’t speak to.”
Stoops said routine investigations done on each year’s recruiting class may have prevented potential problems.
“There have been multiple people we have denied or said we’re not going to recruit,” Stoops said. “When we find through background checks, we find certain instances, definitely. We’ve had that come every year.”
Stoops said OU recruits too many players to put a percentage on the number of prospects that have been rejected. He also denied that there was any common thread in the cases of Frank Shannon, Dorial Green-Beckham and Joe Mixon as they pertain to Westbrook’s recruitment that same year. Each case was dealt with on its own merits, he suggested.
Shannon had a university Title IX investigation hanging over him while he was still allowed to practice with the first-team defense, and it was university president David Boren who ordered Shannon suspended and, when a district court ruled to reinstate him, Boren fought it all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Even though Green-Beckham had been dismissed from Missouri after domestic violence accusations in Columbia, the OU staff was actively recruiting him to Norman and even helped DGB appeal to the NCAA to be immediately eligible to play that season.
And Mixon wasn’t suspended from all team activities until after Boren and athletic director Joe Castiglione came with Stoops to view the video of Mixon punching a woman.
And after all of that happened, the OU staff still recruited Westbrook out of Blinn Junior College.
“Some things have happened here on campus and we’ve had measures to discipline them,” Stoops said. “So Joe’s been disciplined and every other guy’s been disciplined. Again, you’re trying to tie everything together. When we recruited Dede, there wasn’t any sign of this. And, to the extent of it, I don’t know.”
Stoops also answered questions about rape survivor and sexual violence activist Brenda Tracy’s visit to Norman. She spoke to the team and considers Stoops a friend and supporter, but she offered some displeasure on social media on Sunday with the Westbrook revelation.
“I absolutely believe that better decisions could have been made,” Tracy wrote. “I do not condone (Stoops’) decision to bring on players with violent histories. … The real question is what are these coaches doing after I leave? How will Coach (Lincoln) Riley and Coach Stoops deal with these issues the next time they come up?”
Tracy also expressed optimism that the culture is changing, if ever so slowly.
“I think what Brenda is doing is incredibly important,” Stoops said. “There’s more and more conversation and there’s more and more education (of) young men out there. She’s doing an incredible job of continuing the conversation of teaching and molding and teaching appropriate behavior.
“So definitely, I continue to grow and everybody does. From year-to-year, things change and narratives can change, whatever. Then there’s more conversation because of it. It is positive that what she’s doing, and I think it’s only going to affect more positive change.”
What about at Oklahoma? Will the athletic department that administers these background checks of prospective student-athletes do better in the future than it did in 2014?
“I’m sure our athletic department will look at what they’re doing,” Stoops said, “but they’re extensive.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.