College football is breaking my heart.
I literally broke down and cried during a commercial break Wednesday on my SirusXM “College Sports Nation” radio show.
Everywhere I turn, I find news of horrid sexual allegations, rape, blame-shifting, cheating, stolen gun-toting and general lawlessness, by players and coaches. Entitlement and enabling run rampant. Ideas born early in a player’s career are often reinforced by a coach’s “savior complex.”
It is not a good time for college football.
This week, I spoke to Paula Lavigne from ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” She told me of at least four women that she knows of, personally, who have yet to come forward with allegations of assault at Baylor. Their alleged attackers are football players who haven’t been named.
As bad as it is at Baylor, the ugliness could be far from over.
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, who also joined my satellite radio show this week, said Baylor coaches could face criminal charges, including obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence, as a result of their attempts to cover up these crimes or hinder investigations.
My biggest question in the Baylor case is why the coaching staff was allowed to stay on, given what the Pepper Hamilton report tells us:
“The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University. In certain instances, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics. In those instances, football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct.”
And this is just at Baylor. I could comment on cases from Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida State, Tennessee … you get the point. Something is badly broken in today’s football culture.
As I was writing this piece about Baylor on Thursday, news broke regarding Jeffery Simmons at Mississippi State. He will be allowed to enroll at the school “under conditions.”
Those conditions stem from his arrest, which followed the public dissemination of a video in which he struck a woman, repeatedly, while she was on the ground. In addition to his enrolling with conditions, he will be suspended for the first game of the season against South Alabama.
I sat in a grocery store parking lot and read Tony Barnhart’s initial tweet about the story.
Miss. State signee Jeffery Simmons has been admitted "under conditions." He will sit out the first game vs. S. Alabama plus counseling.
— Tony Barnhart (@MrCFB) June 2, 2016
My first feeling was numbness – shock, really. Then something started to burn in the pit of my stomach. I was angry and sad, all at the same time.
The news brought up a memory I had pushed down deep, one I had not even shared with my own family until today. The feelings came barreling back like a searing-hot poker in my gut.
I once was a victim of abuse; now I am a victor.
Late one night, I was in a familiar house with a familiar somebody and he was uncharacteristically angry. He drug me from one end of the house to the other, by my hair.
There were other people in the house, supposedly sleeping. I screamed for help, but no one came to my aid. When he finally relented, I curled up into a ball and went to sleep. The next day, I was missing chunks of hair and carpet burns covered my body.
What hurt worse than my physical injuries was that people heard my screams, yet refused to help me.
When I go back to that night, that’s the resounding question I have: “How could you?”
That’s why I identify with these victims, those we know about and the great many more we don’t, at campuses across the country. I am one of them. They are me. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of us were ignored in our most vulnerable hour.
Who in college football is listening to their voices? To our voices? Who is putting themselves in their shoes? Who is looking out for them, for us?
I’m sad because people I respect at Mississippi State missed the boat. They missed an opportunity to send a clear, stern message to student-athletes and recruits that hitting women brings stiff consequences.
The strongest message they sent, though, was a message to women that seems to be, “We will talk the talk, but when it comes to gaining an advantage on Saturday, well … all bets are off.”
I’m not saying don’t admit the young man into school; I’m just saying teach him a life lesson. Counsel him, let him be around the football program so he is subjected to strong men of character – but bench his behind. He will learn far greater lessons from a year spent merely watching football than he ever will from being coddled simply because of his athletic prowess. It has been said coddling molds the habitual offender.
If he transfers to another school because he doesn’t want to take his medicine, then so be it. Is Mississippi State that worried about one player? If so, what does that say about the faith it has in the rest of its team and coaching staff?
If Mississippi State had been strong in its punishment of Simmons, I would have felt they cared, truly, for the women in their lives – the hundreds of thousands of female fans and students they welcome to their campus, not to mention the wives and sisters and daughters they love. What they chose to do tells me all they care about is winning, and that hurts.
I will leave you with this: What are we going to do to take our game back?
Where are our leaders? Our “makers of men”? Where are the responsible fans – you know, the ones who think for themselves rather than blindly support their school’s every decision.
Where are the teammates strong enough to tell another what they are doing is wrong? Where are the coaches willing to say, “Sometimes doing the right thing might cost me something, even a game, even my job, but I’m willing to do it!”
It’s time for these people to stand up and take the game back that we love.
Who’s with me?
(You can follow Rachel Baribeau on Twitter at @RachelBaribeau)
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