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Winning At All Costs

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Baylor loses its soul in the pursuit of victory

Both of these men permanently changed Baylor...
Both of these men permanently changed Baylor...
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor is a Christian university that built a successful football program on lies and turning a blind eye towards the sexual violence committed by its players. It was a total failure of both the athletic department and academic leadership to live up to the mission of the school.

I did not attend undergrad at Baylor, so I never was a part of the Old Baylor Line, and don't have the same emotional attachment to the school's athletic programs as those who did. But I do hold a degree from Baylor, and I enjoyed my three years in Waco which included going to watch a burgeoning basketball team rising from the ashes of scandal and a frankly terrible football team.

This is to say I'm part of the Baylor family, but not as emotionally attached as I could be. My first love will always be to my undergraduate alma mater of LSU. Those years meant more to me, and I live and die by the successes and failures of LSU, not Baylor. I care what happens to Baylor, but I'm not fully emotionally invested.

Because of this relationship, I've been reluctant to write about the most recent scandal at Baylor. I can't claim to speak as a hardcore Baylor fan, but I'm not a disinterested observer either. Stuck in an odd nowhere place, I couldn't quite identify with either group. But here it goes anyway, as a Baylor fan, the last few months have disgusted me. It's shameful and beneath the ideals that Baylor claims to stand for.

And while we want the story to be that Baylor fans have lined up in cult-like denial like those in Happy Valley, Baylor has at least made some positive steps. The school has fired the head coach, the athletic director, and the president of the school. They have released the findings of fact, which pulls few punches on just how egregious Baylor's behavior was. However, doing the right thing two years too late is not doing the right thing.

The Baylor Alumni Association is calling for the release of the full Pepper Hamilton report. It's a move I fully support, and hope more Baylor alums agree. While there are a few prominent alumni buying ads to show support for Ken Starr, most Baylor fans I know believe in confronting these sins instead of trying to sweep them under the rug and, for some reason, proclaiming the goodness of those who looked the other way.

Baylor ignored the safety of its students, and in one case apparently overlooked multiple rapes by the same player, all so it could win some football games. This isn't just criminal, it is immoral. Baylor failed its student body and deserves whatever consequences it must now suffer.

And why did Baylor fail so spectacularly? Because a winning football team is like a drug, and once you've had that first sweet hit off of the pipe, you'll do anything to get that feeling again.

Football is a huge part of college life on a large campus, especially in the south. In some places, it seems like the entire state shuts down so that we may all descend upon campus and worship at the altar of football. Baylor has long rubbed shoulders with Texas and Texas A&M, and wanted that same feeling of the universe coming to a stop for three hours every Saturday.

Games are more than just recreation, or the center of the social calendar, they are the identity of the school. Football isn't just the cultural center of the college experience, it is a financial driver. Big time football is big money, and more wins means increased visibility and more sales. And not just for the athletics program. Nothing boosts enrollment like a winning football team. Baylor enjoyed record enrollment last year, as the football team was the best advertisement the school could buy.

Winning football built a new stadium on campus. It built a stronger campus community. It brought in a bunch of money. Is it no wonder that the school would want to keep that train rolling? Sweep the unpleasantness under the rug. No one will notice, and the good times will never end. Given every incentive to do the wrong thing, Baylor predictably did the wrong thing. It turned a blind eye to a series of sexual assaults by its football players, and ham-fistedly intimidated the victims into silence.

The reporting on this story has been to portray Baylor as uniquely awful. This is what happens when football culture gets out of control, a cautionary tale. We all get to point fingers and feel good about our moral superiority to those people because, goodness knows, we'd never do anything like that. That's a more comforting story to tell than the truth.

The truth is that what Baylor did is horrible, it is unconscionable, and it is going on at college campuses across the country. The details change of course, but turning a blind eye to sexual assault is Standard Operating Procedure for college athletics.

One week after the Baylor scandal broke, Mississippi St. admitted football recruit Jeffrey Simmons into their program despite a recent arrest for repeatedly punching a woman on the ground. The video of which is all over the internet. But hey, State is at a competitive disadvantage in the SEC and they have to take questionable character risks in order to compete. Besides, this kid is a five-star recruit and State will suspend him for a full game.

Then there's the gold standard of football players assaulting women video, Joe Mixon. Mixon sat out a full year of football, but returned to Oklahoma's football team, and would not answer any questions that weren't football-related.

Florida St. just finished settling a Title IX claim regarding Jameis Winston's accuser, only to have video surface of De'Andre Johnson assaulting a woman in a bar. Florida St kicked him out of school and he entered a plea deal, but Johnson has resurfaced as one of the top JUCO recruits in the country with Florida and Alabama allegedly showing interest in signing him.

Several BYU students have suffered negative consequences from the university for coming forward about sexual assault. One victim in particular, who reported the incident to the Title IX office, was kicked out of school for violating the Honor Code.

Tennessee is currently in litigation of its own Title IX complaint. Eight women are suing the university regarding its hostess program creating the expectation of sexual favors, and then fostering an environment conducive to sexual assaults. The two sides argued over the interpretation of the Title IX suit at Colorado regarding their hostess program.

What happened at Baylor was horrifying, and it would be comforting to believe that a school attempting to sweep a series of sexual assaults under the rug is the worst part of the story, but it's not. No, the worst part of the story is how depressingly normal Baylor's behavior is. The most horrifying thing is how widespread Baylor's behavior is among big time college football programs.

Everyone wants a winner, and we will do almost anything to get it. Winning is a drug, and no one wants to go cold turkey.