Go get your ‘redemption’ story somewhere else

Published 5:44 pm Friday, March 4, 2022

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On Feb. 24, officials with Grambling State University announced that they had hired Art Briles as the offensive coordinator for the football team.

On Feb. 28, a mere four days later, Briles resigned from his new position, saying he didn’t want to be a “distraction” to the team.

If the name sounds familiar to you, you might be remembering Briles from his time as the head coach of Baylor University’s football team, serving from 2007 until 2016 when he was fired from that position. Unlike plenty of typical cases where a university football coach is let go because the team’s having a string of dismal seasons, Briles was booted from the university for his role in the football team’s scandal.

That scandal involved numerous sexual assault allegations committed by members of the team, over a number of years with a number of victims. After an independent investigation by a law firm, the findings showed that the football team members were “above the rules” and had “no culture of accountability.” As the head coach, Briles should have stepped into his leadership role and made an effort to put a stop to the assaults. Instead, he swept things under the rug and let it carry on for years. As a result, so many women continued to suffer because of inaction from Briles and other university officials. (Many of whom were also fired or resigned around the same time Briles was let go.)

According to the NCAA infractions committee report (released in Aug. 2021): “[Briles’] incurious attitude toward potential criminal conduct by his student-athletes was deeply troubling to the panel. The head coach failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case. Furthermore, as a campus leader, the head coach is held to an even higher standard. He completely failed to meet this standard.”

ESPN’s reporting includes a timeline of events in the years leading up the Briles’ firing and the years after as well. It’s horrifying to read the number of assaults/rapes which took place during that time period. While some players were expelled or faced criminal consequences, many were never even charged.

It’s clear to me that Briles and anyone else who was in a position of power during that time should not hold that sort of power again. No matter how good you are at coaching on the football field, if you don’t try to stop your players from causing harm, you don’t need to be in that position anymore. You’re not qualified to be a leader.

So it’s baffling to me that people keep trying to give Briles a “second chance.”

In 2017, a Canadian Football League team tried to hire Briles, but rescinded that offer hours later due to the (justified, in my opinion) public backlash.

In 2018, he spent a year coaching an American football team in Italy.

In 2019, Southern Mississippi briefly considered him for an offensive coordinator position, but it didn’t pan out. Later that year, Briles began coaching high school football but resigned in December 2020. And now, the latest attempt to bring Briles back to football: Grambling State University, an HBCU in Louisiana.

People who have tried to hire Briles always speak of giving him another opportunity.

“I believe he is a man who deserves a second chance,” said Jay Hopson, the Southern Miss coach who tried to hire him in 2019. “He is a man that seemed sincere [and] humble in his interview [and] personally he committed no crime.”

It’s true that Briles was not arrested for any crimes. What a low bar to clear there! Thanks for that compelling argument, Coach Hopson. (ESPN reports that Hopson resigned his position in 2020 after only one game.)

Grambling State’s athletic director Trayvean Scott told ESPN last week that he spent 10 days researching Briles before he supported the hire. “I know a lot of things are said and done,” he said in an interview. “We felt it [was appropriate] to give him a chance to really redeem himself after understanding where the facts lie.”

What kind of research did you do in those 10 days, Mr. Scott? Did you somehow miss the fact that things were so bad at Baylor that the school is under probation for the next four years? Did you miss the backlash that’s happened every other time someone has tried to hire Briles?

Listen, I’m all for giving people who have messed up and made bad decisions a second chance to get on with their lives. It’s true that sometimes people can and do change for the better. But those “second chances” do not have to happen in the same position where those prior mistakes were made.

Briles doesn’t have to wear a football coach hat for his redemption story. He can go on with his life doing something else, something that doesn’t ask him to be responsible for young people. Briles, like any other person, is capable of switching careers when necessary.

You can’t convince me that there aren’t enough football coaches in the whole United States that we need Art Briles back on the field somewhere. Look harder. Give opportunities to other people. Let them have the chance to prove their talents instead.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of all this: it’s the same old story we’ve seen for plenty of other disgraced coaches. They spend some time away, but inevitably people keep trying to bring them back with no regard for the victims or the harm these people have caused. As a sports fan myself, I’m tired of seeing it repeat over and over again.

Don’t you know there are some things in life worth more than just winning?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.