DALLAS – They gathered in a large meeting room in the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas. Six panelists and about 50 observers and media members, all in business attire, were gathered Wednesday for the sixth Big 12 Athletics Forum.
The topic (and name) of the event was “Campus Violence – Finding Solutions.” As moderator Armen Keteyian put it in his opening remarks, the purpose was “to bring one of the dark corners of sport and society to light.”
One of those corners is 90 miles south in Waco, where Baylor remains entangled in a sexual assault scandal.
Brenda Tracy is another corner. She was gang-raped for six hours by four men in 1998. Two were Oregon State football players who were suspended for one game. She brought charges against the players but the district attorney refused to prosecute. She’s now a registered nurse, and in the past two years after going public with her story, she has become a crusading activist to change laws (she’s helped with five in the state of Oregon) and advocate for victims.
Seated next to Tracy was former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, yet another corner. The 29-year-old’s career in the NFL apparently ended when video surfaced of him assaulting his wife.
That Tracy and Rice shared a stage was newsworthy and significant. Several victims groups have criticized Tracy for teaming up with Rice, but his message and sincerity ring true with her.
“I definitely acknowledge that I failed miserably,” said Rice, who is a motivational speaker on the root causes of domestic violence. “During my career, I was so concerned with being “the” man rather than being “a” man. I now know what domestic violence is, how real it is; it happens every 12 seconds. There are rules for a man and the No. 1 rule is never put your hands on a woman.
“With my wife, it happened one time. One time is too many.”
Tracy has spoken to football teams at Nebraska – coached by Mike Riley, who was at Oregon State when Tracy was assaulted – and at Baylor and Oklahoma. She’s met with the NCAA, presenting a petition with 180,000 signatures asking for the NCAA to ban perpetrators of sexual violence. Her courage and conviction are as commanding as her chilling story.
“I wanted justice and I did everything that I was supposed to do as a victim of a crime,” she said. “Once the four men were arrested and two of them were Oregon State players, the backlash started. Not only was I a victim of a horrific crime but now I was a perpetrator. So you carry both of those things, and it’s a lot of weight to carry. And it’s unfair and it’s not okay. … I was suicidal. I wanted to die.
“The system is broken and I was a victim of that broken system.”
Studies show that 90 percent of rapes go unreported because the victims lack two things: faith in the legal system and the fortitude needed to endure the battle. Also, campus rapists tend to have six to eight victims because those victims tend to not come forward.
Sexual assault and domestic violence are crimes not confined to campus. Dealing with those issues on campus needs vast improvements, but the solutions are exceedingly complicated. Title IX is one component, but students’ records are shielded by FRPA. Add in different state laws – in the Big 12, five different states – plus the often trudging nature of criminal investigation, and challenges exist at every turn.
“If you look at our 10 schools they probably have 10 different models for how they deliver these services,” Bowlsby said. “Complexity always complicates things. But this is about consent, control and violence and your first priority is the survivor or the victim, then you’ll figure out away to make it better.
“We’ve all got a long way to go.”
Bowlsby was a panelist. Part of his message was that a system-wide change needs to be made regarding student-athletes. With the current policies in place, student-athletes who commit sexual assaults or domestic violence who evade the legal system but are dismissed by one school can often move on to another.
“Right now it’s too easy for someone with a checkered past to move on,” he said. “We’ve tried to focus on national issues, and I think this is a national issue. It’s much more than a Big 12 issue. But obviously, there’s a local prism to look through as well.”
In addition to the Baylor scandal, in July 2014 Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon punched a woman in the face, leaving her with four broken bones. Mixon reached a plea bargain agreement on the charge of acts resulting in gross injury/outraging public decency. His victim, Amelia Molitor, has filed a civil suit. She also said that OU fans harassed her because of the incident – illustrating the process of “victim blaming.” Mixon was suspended from team activities for one semester, missing the 2014 season, but returned to the team in 2015.
(Note: Molitor was not a panelist at this event.)
When the news started breaking about how poorly Baylor has handled and is handling cases of sexual assault, Tracy said that here “PTSD kicked in.” She is incredulous about reports of Art Briles hoping to coach again in 2017, and former Baylor president Ken Starr saying that Briles is a “victim.”
“That bothers me, 100 percent, absolutely,” she said. “It’s easy to lose sight of the victims. We have to hold the people accountable under whose watch these things happened. It’s frustrating for me that people who are involved in the situations, people who perpetrate these crimes just get this pass and then keep going on with their lives.
“For me, I don’t think (Briles) should coach anywhere next. I think at this point, the investigation has shown that he was fired for good reason. Until additional things come up, I don’t think he should be coaching anywhere else. He didn’t set a good example.”
For the 20 years of its existence, the Big 12 has been the most dysfunctional and volatile of the major conferences. It’s currently entwined in a discussion/debate about expansion that has often appeared to be all over four-lane highway.
This was the sixth forum hosted by the Big 12 over the last two years. The previous panel discussions have been the usual topics kicked around on the proverbial “slow” sports day.
“We’ve sought to put together panels of opposing views that would encourage the discussion so we could do deep dive on the topics,” Bowlsby said. “I think (Wednesday’s) panel was the most impactful that we’ve had. Because of the subject matter, I don’t think there was much disagreement or debate.
“This was and is something that needs to be talked about and this was a start. Hopefully it will be impactful.”