What We’re Not Talking About
How is she? I’m not sure we really care. I know I don’t.
Well, I do, but it takes effort and that’s the root of the evil of this story.
There’s a lot of conversation going on about a situation surrounding the Baylor University Football program. A player, Sam Ukwuachu, transferred from the Boise State team in 2013 to Baylor after having been cut for breaking team rules. Evidently violence against women is against team rules.
Now, nearly 2 years later, a firestorm of controversy has erupted after Ukwuachu has been convicted of sexual assault against another student athlete at Baylor. The controversy is worthwhile. The outcry is legitimate. I’m mostly concerned though, with the focus of the controversy.
Have I mentioned that I’m a football fan? I’m the kind of fan of the game that should really add the missing syllables back to “fanatic” and the Baylor Bears are my team. I have two degrees from Baylor and though I differ with the current administration on a number of issues I just haven’t been able to shake my allegiance to the Bears. I cheered the team on through what most alumni will call through clenched teeth, “The Kevin Steele Era.” We didn’t win much. I would say “ever” if not for three fortunate, epic bouts against teams from less powerful conferences. Then a couple of coaches (and a couple of degrees for me) later and Art Briles arrived on campus. We Baylor fans call this “the resurrection.” We started winning. A lot. A Heisman trophy, a couple of Conference Championships, a new stadium, the disdain of other in-state coaching staffs – all the stuff that good football teams have! The sweet fragrance of relevance finally masked that funny smell coming from the Brazos River in Waco.
Wait! Stop! I’m doing it again. I’m losing focus on the point – which is kind of my point.
The big scandal of this terrible event has become whether a football coach knew about the tendencies of a particular player before bringing him to campus. Ukwuachu’s former college coach, Chris Petersen, says he told Briles. Briles says that never happened. Ukwuachu’s high school coach, Tony Heath, tends to believe Briles. There are egos and reputations to protect there. I really want the coach of my team to be squeaky clean so that I can enjoy….Stop!
Do you see? It’s really, really hard for a football fan to stay on point here. None of us have so far. The point is not whether a football coach knew or didn’t know. Those are important things for school officials to determine in an honest way, but they’re less important things to the one thing that nobody is talking about. Look at the names we’ve mentioned so far: Sam Ukwuachu, Art Briles, Chris Petersen, Tony Heath. All men, all privileged, most of them white, all of them given positions of great power, and at least one of them endowed with our society’s trump card of authority – brute strength. One of these men, according to a jury, wielded the power vested in him by his own physique to take what he wanted, the body of a fellow (now former) Baylor athlete who’s name is….who’s name is…
Ah! There it is. That’s the thing I haven’t been talking about while protecting the virtue of my football team. I’m not surprised nor even disturbed that there has been conversation about the culpability of football coaches and athletic programs, but I am disturbed that the football part of the conversation has dominated – a painfully apropos word. We don’t even know the name of the woman whose life was changed by this incident. Granted we don’t know her name as a matter of her own protection, but that’s the whole problem. Jane Doe, as the courts have called her, can’t even use her own name as a matter of security and privacy. She had to transfer from Baylor after the administration did little or nothing to protect her from her attacker. Sure, we’ve heard these facts, they’re out there, a part of the conversation. They’re the part of the conversation that flashes to the surface just long enough to allow us to feign compassion before getting back to defending a favorite or vilifying a rival football program.
I’ve lost track of what’s most important. We all have. I know we all have because, “Jane Doe” is everywhere. Currently 129 colleges and universities in the US are under investigation for sexual assault incidents, some of them for multiple. This is the point in the post where I’d like to drop a bulleted list of statistics making the situation crystal clear, but the fact is I don’t know much about the situation except that there is one. I do know there is a statistically greater chance that a woman will be sexually assaulted on campus at my favorite school again than there is a chance that my favorite team will win a national championship this year. I also know that most football fans are far more hurt by the implications of that statement for the team than for the women. Clearly we’re not talking about this enough. Whether it’s football or academic programs or university budgets, we seem to always have more important things to talk about.
So how is she? We don’t care.
But we can.
If we will stop for a moment to pull our heads out of the hype-video-enduced trance we’ve been in and fan away the testosterone laden entry tunnel smoke already billowing from locker rooms we might realize we don’t really care who knew what. We might not care if our team wins or loses. We might not care about football or collegiate allegiance. At least we might not care as much as we care about victims and victims-to-be.
So join me.
Join me in a couple of weeks in cheering on your team. But join me also in calling for an end to the rape culture prevalent on campuses and even more prevalent in college athletics. Join me in holding administrators to account. Join me in calling for @CoachArtBriles (and other coaches in his position) to go beyond simple denial of fault to use their positions of power to influence the system toward justice for victims and safe campuses for all.