Since the revealing of heartless text messages sent by former Baylor football coach Art Briles on Thursday, I’m glad that I have yet to hear a Baylor student rush to his defense. It’s hard to defend his insensitive, dismissive attitude towards sexual assault survivors when you can read the evidence in black and white.
From the conversations I’ve had and the social media posts I’ve seen this week, it seems that the Baylor community is finally united behind the Board of Regents’ decision to fire him.
It took us nine months.
It bothers me that my friends who publicly decry him now are the same ones who rushed to find a last-minute game day outfit to “Blackout for Briles.” The same ones who sported “CAB” in black sharpie on their hands for weeks to support (former) Coach Art Briles. The same ones who took to social media to write passive-aggressive tweets with the hashtag #TruthDon’tLie.
If you believe that those students were an insignificant minority, remember that one petition to reinstate Briles as Baylor’s head coach garnered over 1,000 signatures.
At first, I was in no way immune to this way of thinking. My first reaction when I heard the news of Briles’ firing in May was to think, “This isn’t fair.” I was angry with the media for criticizing my university and with the Board of Regents for what I thought was an impulsive decision.
The moment I snapped out of it was when I realized one of the most outspoken survivors of sexual assault at Baylor, Stefanie Mundhenk, had lived a few doors down from me in my residence hall my freshman year. I realized that my feelings about the unfairness of the situation were nothing compared to the unfairness Mundhenk and the other women who came forward faced.
In one of Mundhenk’s recent Facebook posts, she eloquently describes the stigma placed on rape victims in our society.
“Art Briles gets to drop his lawsuit without hate mail,” Mundhenk said. “And I can’t even call myself a survivor without the same.”
Our society has a tendency to fall back on the mentality that we should be skeptical of the accuser, not the accused, when it comes to rape cases in particular.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that the percentage of reported rapes found to be false falls somewhere between 2 and 10 percent. However, because most rapes go unreported and accusers withdrawl their claims for a number of personal reasons, these numbers are still widely debated.
We know there are accusers who lie about rape, but there are also a number of people who lie about being the victims of other violent crimes. Just ask Ryan Lochte, who lied about being mugged during his time at the Olympics last year in Rio de Janeiro. If our default reaction is to believe the victims of those crimes, why would we not afford the same courtesy to victims of rape?
When collegiate athletes are involved, the tendency to take pity on the accused seems to skyrocket. Former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner recently served a mere three months in prison because the judge in his case thought a harsher punishment might have a “severe impact” on Turner’s swimming career.
You may also remember the letter in defense of Turner written by his father, in which he argued that jail time would be “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
Was Briles’ dismissal a “steep price to pay” for covering up an alleged 52 rapes? I’m pleased that the vast majority of the Baylor community can see now that it wasn’t.
I still worry that the reason students condemn Briles today is the same reason many students defended him during this past football season: It’s trendy. I hope I’m wrong.
I’m not writing this to make you feel guilty if you defended Briles at first or to make myself seem morally superior — because my anger was also misdirected at first.
I’m writing this because next time (and there will be a next time, whether or not it’s at Baylor), I hope it’s the victims of sexual assault who receive an outpouring of love and support, not the ones who allowed it to happen.