Art Briles is back in college football, and no matter how hard anyone at Grambling State tries, this is a decision that cannot be explained away.
Especially not the way Grambling State’s athletic director is attempting to do so.
In puzzling comments to ESPN, Trayvean Scott said he is “rooted in fact” in defending his decision to hire Briles as the football team’s new offensive coordinator on Thursday — a statement that seems to indicate the absolute opposite. In case Scott has not read up on the man he is welcoming into his university, let’s get to some actual facts:
Baylor fired then-head coach Briles in 2016 after an independent investigation by law firm Pepper Hamilton into the school’s handling of sexual violence allegations revealed a football program where players were “above the rules” with “no culture of accountability for misconduct.” In addition, the findings “reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct.”
While Briles was taking the program to unprecedented heights during his eight-year tenure, going 65-37 with two Big 12 championships, one lawsuit filed in 2017 alleged that at least 52 rapes by more than 30 football players happened over a four-year period.
When allegations were brought to Briles or others inside the football program, Pepper Hamilton found, “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.”
Again, Briles was the coach tasked with setting that tone and culture.
“You report what you know. We did the best we felt at the time,” Briles told KTAL-TV in an exclusive interview Thursday. “Apparently, it wasn’t good enough — it wasn’t good enough.
“I’m sorry for anybody that suffered any consequences because of it.”
There remains a lawsuit pending against Baylor, former athletic director Ian McCaw and Briles. Alex Zalkin, who represents the plaintiff in the case, said all three defendants have filed motions for summary judgment to get the case dismissed. The court has yet to make a ruling. If those motions are denied, the case would be headed for trial.
“I think it’s tempting to dismiss what happened at Baylor now that so much time has passed,” Zalkin told after Briles’ hire was announced. “But there’s still a lawsuit pending against [Briles]. And ultimately, a jury is going to decide if he was negligent in the manner in which he ran his football team, which caused multiple women to be subjected to sexual assault and domestic violence. Those are serious, serious allegations. I can’t understand how a program could hire him knowing that this lawsuit is still pending, and that a jury may ultimately find that.”
Baylor remains on NCAA probation as a result of what transpired under Briles’ watch.
While Briles and his supporters have claimed exoneration because the NCAA’s committee on infractions could not conclude that Baylor or Briles violated NCAA rules by failing to report allegations of sexual and interpersonal violence committed on the campus, that is a mere technicality. Just because there is no finding of NCAA rules violations, Briles is not absolved from the findings in the Pepper Hamilton report, nor does the decision absolve him of the way he put women on campus at risk.
In the 51-page NCAA committee on infractions report released in August 2021, the committee said this about Briles: “His 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.”
It all makes you wonder whether anybody at Grambling checked with women on its campus, or the local sexual assault center, to see how they feel about Briles representing the university or the message that hiring him sends to survivors. Did anybody at Grambling reach out to anyone involved in the Baylor case beyond Briles himself, a man who has apologized, but never really taken full responsibility for his actions.
A Grambling State spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on these specific questions.
“For the survivor, it’s not just about the perpetrator,” said Brenda Tracy, a sexual assault survivor and founder of Set the Expectation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending sexual and interpersonal violence through prevention and advocacy work. “It’s about all the people that enable, it’s about all the people that dismiss, ignore, minimize, cover up. This is how these things continue to happen. If we continue to have cultures and people that enable this type of violence, it’s never going to stop. Ever.”
What feels different in this situation is not that Grambling State has given Briles another chance, as Scott said in defense of the hire. “I know a lot of things are said and done. We felt it [was appropriate] to give him a chance to really redeem himself after understanding where the facts lie,” Scott said.
All too many second chances have been given to men like Briles, and this return to the sport has been six years in the making, as Briles has pushed and prodded to get back into the college game since Baylor dismissed him. He had to settle for coaching American football in Italy in 2018, then coaching at Mount Vernon (Texas) High School in 2019 and 2020.
What feels different is the response. There was both internal and public outcry that followed similar attempts to hire Briles in both the Canadian Football League in 2017 and at Southern Miss in 2019, leading to Briles not getting those jobs. But the outcry this time around has not forced anyone at Grambling to do an about-face.
Take legendary alumnus Doug Williams, a two-time Black College Player of the Year, the first Black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl and a former coach at his alma mater. His outrage clearly did nothing to deter those in charge of the hiring process. Williams said he had conversations with Scott and university president Rick Gallot before the hire was made.
“I’m having a problem with it because other schools would not bite on [hiring Briles], then he’s coming to a Black school like we’ll take him in,” Williams told ESPN NFL reporter John Keim. “I have a problem with it, a major problem with it. I can’t support it, that’s for sure. That hurt me to my core right there. … I know [late] coach [Eddie] Robinson is turning over right now.”
What Eddie Robinson did in 55 seasons at Grambling goes beyond his record (408-165-15) or conference championships (17) or players who went on to play professionally (200-plus). His dedication to winning and developing his players the right way — with class, dignity and respect — made him more than a football coach. It made him a titan, revered and honored, with awards named for him and a museum on the Grambling campus in his honor.
The Football Writers Association of America annually selects the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year. During the awards banquet last month, 2021 winner Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell spoke about why it was so meaningful to him to be connected with Robinson, specifically describing the way he seeks to positively impact his players as Robinson did.
“My main thing is preserving Eddie Robinson’s legacy, which started here at Grambling, and that weighs big with me at all times,” Robinson’s grandson, Eddie Robinson III, told ESPN on Friday. “I knew the talks were out there that they were going to see if Coach Briles had interest, but I never really thought we would actually do that. Once you weigh everything, that’s not the Grambling we all know. That’s not the legacy that Eddie Robinson built, that Doug Williams followed. How do you fathom that? I don’t have anything against Coach Briles. It’s just … we’re Grambling.”
Now, the same school Robinson so dutifully represented appears to be taking a far different path. In bringing Art Briles to campus, it is sending a message: If winning comes with a moral or ethical cost, so be it.
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