At 5:00pm CT on September 7 in the year of our Lord 2016, KWTX, a local Waco news station, released an investigative report questioning the legitimacy of the Pepper Hamilton report that led to the departures of Ken Starr, Art Briles, and Ian McCaw from Baylor University.
At 5:30pm CT on September 7 in the year of our Lord 2016, ESPN, a national sports news media behemoth, released a post promoting a coming interview between Tom Rinaldi and Art Briles, in which Briles is quoted as expressing his contrition and error approximately 12 times in 14 sentences, depending on how you divide his ship-captain analogy.
The two news outlets are independent from one another*, and it could be a total coincidence that these two stories - one which calls into question the investigation that incriminated Briles and led to his firing, and the other which demonstrates humility, contrition, and a promise of lessons learned - were released 30 minutes apart.
On September 2 in the year of our Lord 2016, it was reported that Art Briles had hired Jimmy Sexton, a super agent whose clientele includes the likes of Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher. Both of those coaches, coincidentally, have seen high profile players under their watch be accused of heinous acts. Both of those coaches, coincidentally, remain among the highest paid coaches in the country at the same schools in which those players were enrolled when the accusations started flying.
It is also worth mentioning that Briles has expressed a strong interest in coaching football in the year of our Lord 2017.
The Art Briles Image Rehabilitation Train is now leaving the station. What its destination is, or when it will arrive, will be known in time.
Since the saga first began, Baylor and its fanbase have been torn asunder. At one time, when Baylor was silently waiting for the findings of an independent investigation while being stoned by the national media and University of Texas message boards, there was hope that the board of regents might make the right decision after trusting the process. Then Briles was gone, along with Starr and eventually McCaw.
Questions and skepticism mired the firings/demotions/probations/tail coverings, but even then there remained a version of the story in which Pepper Hamilton (which will be portrayed en masse by Jonah Hill in the 2019 film “Unwritten Report”) had thoroughly questioned all involved and made sound recommendations, which the board of regents reasonably followed. Maybe, just maybe, everyone had done what they were supposed to do without shadowy ambitions, uncertain goals, or selfish aims. The triumvirate overseeing Baylor University with regard to its athletic department, sexual assault, discipline, and Title IX might actually have failed to do its job, either through willful ignorance, malignant tampering, or something more innocent but no less irresponsible.
Whispers from the hedges have suggested from the beginning, however, that the board of regents was never so collected and composed as to act with rational thought. Every firing was a grasp at self-preservation, the leaves rustled, and the board of regents had leveraged the situation to its advantage without regard for doing the “right thing.”
Now, those whispers have gone through the echo chamber of investigative reporting and evolved into “sources.” The KWTX piece lays out a scenario in which Briles had done everything right, tried to be compliant and helpful to the university that had given him a chance, and then been fired without hearing so much as “boo” before or after as to why. The days leading up to his firing were “chaotic”, the KWTX report reads, and two members of the board of regents had assured Briles his job was safe. Less than two weeks later, he was let go. The piece also highlights the dismissal of Jeremy Faulk, a junior college transfer who had gotten into some hot water at his previous school because he “pranked” a teammate by trying to pull the covers off his teammate and his teammate’s girlfriend when both were naked (sidebar: that’s not a prank, that’s being a terrible person). Somehow, that situation escalated and the police were involved, but it was all dismissed. When the Baylor board of regents caught wind of the incident in the midst of the sexual assault scandal, the KWTX report suggests, it panicked and sought to have Faulk dismissed without any further investigation.
And here’s the kicker:
By the report’s conclusion, Briles is sketched as a man just trying to do his job as best he can, and the board of regents is caricatured as a reactionary oligarchy disinclined to take responsible action in the face of severe public criticism.
Combine that conclusion with the image of a somber coach who is apologetic for the tragedies that occurred under his watch, and you have the seeds of a rejuvenated coaching career.
You also have a situation that totally, completely, and utterly obfuscates the truth. On the one hand, this new report is tainted by appearing to be part of a larger public relations Rube Goldberg machine. On the other hand, who’s to say that it doesn’t accurately portray how the debacle actually unfolded? So perhaps Briles was wrongly terminated, but then again, couldn’t this be a sophisticated attempt to invert the narrative in Briles’ favor, regardless of his guilt or innocence?
Ultimately, nothing has really changed. Those who have defended Briles now have “sources” on their side, and those who have decried Briles as a horrific villain can add false contrition to his list of sins. Neither camp is likely to grow or shrink, nor is anyone in the middle really provided with anything to compel them one way or another. The truth is as it has been: uncertain.
The only certainty is that Baylor and its fanbase is the worse for today, whatever the truth may or may not be. These twin reports, whatever they have to say about Baylor’s failure to protect its female students from sexual assault and violence, also stand as the first harbingers of Briles on a stranger’s sideline, likely winning football games, when he was supposed patrol the stadium he built on the Brazos in long-sleeved purity.
*UPDATE: KWTX assures ODB that the stories were, in fact, run independently and they had no knowledge that ESPN would run its interview on the same day.