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Whitlock: Why Doug Williams and the social media mob should think of Kobe Bryant when assessing Art Briles

Op-ed
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Art Briles is worthy of the redemption the sports world afforded Kobe Bryant.

You could make an argument that the former Baylor head football coach is more worthy of grace and mercy than the former NBA legend.

But it appears that the 66-year-old offensive guru won’t get a shot at redemption. Yesterday, just four days after taking the offensive coordinator job at Grambling State University and only hours after the school’s head coach, Hue Jackson, released a strong statement of support, Briles resigned his position. He said he doesn’t want to be a distraction.

The school’s biggest star, former NFL quarterback Doug Williams, said he did not support Briles’ hire. Corporate media and blue-check social media influencers also did not support Briles’ hire. A USA Today columnist, Dan Wolken, labeled Briles “forever radioactive.”

It seems odd. Briles’ alleged crime is not nearly as reprehensible as the alleged misdeeds of countless football players who get second and third chances. From Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (domestic violence) to former NFL quarterback Michael Vick (dog fighting) and all the way down to former Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy (domestic violence), I passionately defend their rights to resume work and redeem themselves. That’s America, the land of opportunity.

Our country and our sports culture allowed Kobe Bryant to ascend to deity. Both Briles and Bryant were entangled in high-profile sexual assault scandals.

In July 2003, a teenage hotel clerk accused Bryant of rape. She later refused to testify in a criminal case. Bryant reached a financial settlement with his accuser in a civil case. He publicly apologized for the incident while maintaining his innocence.

“First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. … I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. … Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”

Other than Michael Jordan, Bryant is the most revered basketball player of the last 40 years, surpassing Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and LeBron James. In terms of worship, Bryant eclipses Jordan. It is high-risk to publicly criticize Bryant and/or discuss the rape allegation that momentarily stained his reputation. The rapper Snoop Dogg threatened Oprah Winfrey’s best friend Gayle King for asking an interview subject about Bryant’s alleged sexual assault.

Bryant is treated as a deity.

Art Briles is treated as a pariah.

In 2015, Baylor fired Briles after a law firm, Pepper Hamilton, the school hired issued an oral report that revealed more than 100 campus-wide rape allegations. Five of the allegations involved Baylor football players. Briles did not sexually assault anyone. He recruited a handful of players who, like Bryant, were accused of rape. Most people who have examined the case closely – including yours truly – believe Briles and his black football players were used as scapegoats to cover up a campus-wide problem at the private Baptist university.

Baylor had failed to adopt federal laws and guidelines to protect student safety. The Pepper Hamilton report put the entire university in the crosshairs. That’s why the report was delivered orally. No written record to be subpoenaed later. The school’s board of regents then took the additional step of hiring a San Francisco public relations firm, J.G. Bunting, that promised to “change the narrative.”

When administrators realized that Briles and his supporters would not disappear quietly (Briles filed a wrongful termination lawsuit), the public relations firm worked with a Wall Street Journal reporter to escalate the allegations against Briles and his football program. With virtually no evidence, the Journal reported that Pepper Hamilton really discovered 17 allegations of sexual misconduct against Baylor football players.

America’s football-hating sports journalists/tweeters surmised that canceling and further vilifying Art Briles were the best ways to clean up football’s toxic masculine culture. And Baylor was able to pretend that once it rid itself of Briles, it had taken a major step in reducing sexual violence.

According to court documents, Baylor’s former athletics director Ian McCaw stated the school used Briles and black football players to cover up a problem that existed on the school’s campus for decades.

We all know that football is the catalyst for rape and other forms of sexual assault on college campuses. It’s not the prevalence of drugs and alcohol. It’s not the hyper-sexualized music played at social gatherings. It’s not the normalizing of sexual promiscuity and pornography. It’s not the secularized values promoted on campus.

It’s football and men like Art Briles. Everybody knows it.

If Briles is allowed to call plays at Grambling State, sexual assault cases will jump 3%-5% in year one and another 2% in year two.

The narrative-changing San Francisco public relations firm, J.G. Bunting, did its job. It summoned a social media lynch mob and strung up Art Briles.

I have a great deal of respect for Doug Williams. He’s a good man. I wish he’d done some basic homework before using his influence to undermine Briles and Hue Jackson. Williams admitted he doesn’t know Briles and has never talked with him. Williams, apparently, accepted the corporate and social media narrative about Briles.

It’s not accurate. No different from the people who claim the media narrative about Kobe’s Colorado encounter is inaccurate.

I don’t pretend to know the whole truth about Bryant or Briles. I just know they’re both worthy of a shot at redemption. Briles might be more worthy. His parents died in a car accident when he was in college. Kobe is the son of a former professional basketball player. He was an elite global citizen long before it became popular.

Whatever, the standard can’t be that talented black athletes accused of and/or convicted of crimes get to resume their careers and super talented white coaches must be removed from society.

Eric Bieniemy, everyone’s favorite black NFL assistant coach, has several female-related criminal allegations in his past. That has not stopped one member of the media from saying NFL owners are racist for failing to promote him to head coach.

Doug Williams and everyone else should rethink their position on Art Briles. At some point, the standard we apply to Briles will be applied to us.
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