Thoughts on Baylor, Liberty & Falwell’s failure

“My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America and garner the same type of appeal among the Christian community as Notre Dame achieves among the Catholic community and BYU garners from the Mormons.”

Ian McCaw, the former athletic director of my alma mater, Baylor University, has accepted a position at Liberty University, a Super-Christian school run by evangelist Jerry Falwell’s son. As he stated, his vision was to make Liberty University one of the country’s big Christian schools like Notre Dame, BYU, and the not mentioned but absently implied, Baylor.

The reason McCaw has the word “former” attached to his Baylor title is due to his resignation earlier this year after being placed on probation for his part in the spider web of failures to adequately respond to multiple reports of sexual assault. In layman’s terms: female students accused football players of raping them and he did nothing about it. This story isn’t even in the past tense yet. Just a few weeks ago, Baylor revealed that he and the former football coach had been informed of an accusation from a student-athlete claiming she’d been gang raped by football players. When she took her complaint elsewhere, they both claimed they were in the dark about the entire incident. They apparently were not.

In the summary Baylor released about the independent and external review of the situation, it says:

“Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence. Pepper’s findings also reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct.”

Reading that, it makes me question the dismissal of the event in Falwell Jr.’s statement about McCaw joining his staff. He said, “Ian’s success really speaks for itself. You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going.”

I feel like I should ask: Where do you see your sports programs going exactly? This isn’t an issue of a decades-ago scandal that has had the benefit of being aired out and brushed aside. This is a current issue, one that’s still sending residual waves through not only Baylor, but colleges across the county. I mean, I’ve seen Chicago. I know people love a scandal and use it as a springboard into the national press to show off their newest “Hot Honey Rag,” but what’s so startling is the implication that the “Christian University” Liberty claims to be cares so little about this. The fact is that a man whose job is to take care of, lead and inspire students was embarrassingly brought down on basis of neglecting the first tenant of his hire: to take care of students. This isn’t something that can or should be spun into a tale of second chances. This is a situation that hasn’t even been resolved yet, but he’s already being welcomed to the same position at another university to much fanfare. How can they be so dismissive of such a serious, life-changing allegation and how can they be sure he will act any differently at this new school?

The fault at Liberty isn’t McCaw’s though. He already lost his sporty Baptist empire over what happened. And yes, it became an empire under his watch with multiple sports finding championship successes and a Heisman to boot. Those facts can’t be overlooked, but I find fault with a university president who is willing to turn a blind eye to the off-the-field and ever-so-recent past.

I’ll admit I have issues with the Falwell dynasty. My first reaction to reading this story was to roll my eyes and say audibly at my desk, “Well no shit it’s a Falwell move.” Jerry Falwell Jr.’s father campaigned against Martin Luther King Jr. and against desegregation in school. In 1958, he’s quoted as saying about his desire to remain a segregated society, “When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.” (Read: segregation based on skin color is ordained by God…eye roll) He opened a private school for only white students in 1967. He launched the “Moral Majority,” the epicenter in which the terms “pro-traditional family,” “pro-moral,” and “pro-American” originated. All of these are still very much a part of the Christian red state voter vernacular. In the early 1990s, his video documentary, The Clinton Chronicles: An Investigation into the Alleged Criminal Activities of Bill Clinton, posited that Clinton was a part of murder conspiracy and a cocaine smuggling operation. Ten years later, he backtracked, claiming he wasn’t sure of the accuracy in the video. He’s the man who claimed one of the Teletubbys was gay, said the acts of terrorism on 9/11 were “probably deserved” and blamed the attacks on feminists, gays and the ACLU. That’s just part of the tree from which this apple, who now runs his father’s university, has fallen.

Most recently, that apple called Trump “one of the greatest visionaries of our time,” and fully endorsed him as President. The New York Times recently reported that when a Liberty student wrote an editorial that was critical of Trump, Falwell censored it. Outside his reach of censorship, alumni and other Christians cried foul, but he, much like his choice of leader, didn’t care what others thought. Perhaps he feels McCaw is his choice and the external implications of such won’t affect him in his ivory prayer tower.

It should surprise no one that a southern Christian university would place as many eggs in their football basket as can fit. For many fans, football is as much a part of their religious activity as sitting in a pew. Add to that the dazzle of ESPN coverage, millions of dollars in merchandising, and the illumination of national news coverage and what was intended to be an extracurricular activity on campus has been skewed into the main event. In the case of McCaw, his athletic director position was focused on winning national titles, not educating students how to fix national problems.

I very much like football and look forward to Baylor football each season, but should we focus on winning at the expense of not teaching students to be good humans? What Liberty University publicly said was that they care more about touchdowns than the immediate past of a man who stood by and allowed some of his prized players to take advantage of people at will. Rather than benching and reporting these young predators, he allowed them to hide in plain sight.

If one of your football players is accused of raping a girl, it shouldn’t matter how great he is on the field, because there’s a possibility he’s a garbage person in the real world. College is as much about learning who you are outside your profession as it is about learning the skills for your trade. In this case, multiple players and coaches were aware of the allegations and none of them did anything to prevent it. McCaw was one of those people and now he’s been charged to shepherd another group of Christians on basis of “what he was able to do during his tenure.” His tenure is one that’s been soiled by sexual assault allegations, the sort of thing that no amount of PR bleach can blot out, and now this “pro-moral” university president has chosen to look the other way. Then again, he looked the other way when he endorsed a Presidential candidate who publicly boasted about doing vile things to women. I guess if it’s not a deal-breaker there, it can’t be a deal-breaker here.

While Jesus was dying on the cross, one of the last things he did on Earth was ensure his mother would be cared for. With one of his last few breaths, he told John to take care of his momma and not let any harm come to her. If it’s that important for the Him to make sure she’s safe, shouldn’t we also prioritize the safety of our mothers, sisters, and friends? Students are vulnerable to all the pratfalls of growing into a new phase of life and the world is an increasingly scarier place, but they shouldn’t have to also be vulnerable to untethered predators on campus who have no fear of repercussion for their actions. That includes silent athletic directors who are guilty by association.

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