Sports Over Survivors

Posted on February 28, 2017 by Aaron J. Freiwald

Everybody loves college football. The atmosphere, the rivalries, and cheering on your Alma mater all make the culture worth being passionate about. But, when comes the point where a college sports program matters more than an individual student’s rights?

The question isn’t as simple as it may seem in terms of addressing a student’s needs. What is right and what is actually done aren’t always the same.

On April 18th, 2013, a young female Baylor University student was out for a night of partying. According to her allegations, she returned to her on-campus housing with two Baylor football players. Shortly after they made their way way into the house together, the young girl’s roommate returned home. Allegedly, the roommate then heard wrestling-like noises, fists hitting skin, and someone shouting “No” in the other room.

The police were called, but before they arrived, the roommate told the young woman to not give them full story. The roommate wanted to protect the football players. To keep them from getting into trouble as stated in the young woman’s allegations.

It’s clear to see what the roommate held as priority. That night, football talent trumped women’s rights.

It seems she was not the only one who held these beliefs. The young woman who identified herself as Elizabeth Doe in her suit, filed allegations of sexual assault with the University, who handled the situation very poorly. Instead of further investigating her claims, Baylor allegedly offered to pay her tuition in exchange for her dropping the allegations and, essentially, forgetting about this terrible incident.

Doe was brushed aside for the good of the football program. There was little to no recognition of her as a human being who was, allegedly, raped violently by two football players.

After Doe filed allegations with the school, Baylor reached out to the law firm Pepper Hamilton and a detailed investigation was conducted. Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia based law firm, is the firm that investigated the Penn State scandal involving Jerry Sandusky; they weren’t new to big University scandals involving sexual abuse claims.

It didn’t take long for Pepper Hamilton to not only find evidence regarding this particular suit, but also a deeper and more detailed culture of sexual assault and rape within Baylor University and their sports programs.

They found that there had been more than a dozen women who reported rape or sexual assault involving various football players to the University, none of which were dealt with properly and, for that matter, legally, according to news reports.

In May 2016, after Pepper Hamilton completed its investigation Baylor University announced steps it has taken and would continue to take in reporting sexual assaults. These steps included firing head coach Art Biles and dismissing several students from their football roster. University President Kenneth Starr was removed from his position, but remained heavily involved with the school as a professor.

But the question still remains; was all of this enough? Elizabeth Doe, and many others like her, were left scarred and without faith. Faith that the environment they lived in wouldn’t protect their rights or their safety.

Should the school have been held accountable more than they were?

Yes. Yes, Baylor University should have done much more. They should have had to do more. Several players who were allegedly involved in sexual assault claims remained on the football team receiving zero punishment. This further shows how the football program is valued above doing what is right and legal.

Former President Starr was allowed to remain in the university staff, without being held accountable for letting crimes go neglected for so long at his University.

Baylor clearly held their money machine of a football program over their students; a terrible misfortune for those in need of help.

Attorney Laura Laughlin, who focuses her practice in representing crime victims, including survivors of sexual assault, reflects on these happenings. “This tactic of putting sports over survivors can only last so long because eventually, someone is going to actually stand up for themselves and other survivors, finally giving a voice to what the university was trying to keep quiet.”

Those affected by this rape violence culture can only make this come true by taking action themselves, and taking steps to move closer to a world where sexual assault is taken seriously.