Second chances are not given, they have to be earned.
Art Briles learned that the hard way Monday night, when the Canadian Football League stepped in and fired him a mere 12 hours after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced he’d been hired as an assistant coach. There might be some willing to turn a blind eye, but it’s the opinion of the people who control the purse strings that matters, and callous indifference to sexual assault tends to make them queasy.
“Art Briles will no longer be joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a coach,” the CFL said in a statement. “We came to this decision this evening following a lengthy discussion between the league and the Hamilton organization. We wish Mr. Briles all the best in his future endeavors.”
Left unsaid is what should never have needed to be said: Until Briles demonstrates that he has learned from his failings at Baylor, he is not deserving of another job, let alone a chance at redemption.
A damning report found that Briles and his Baylor staff had ignored or actively discouraged sexual assault complaints involving football players, including four alleged gang rapes. According to a Title IX lawsuit filed against Baylor in May — the seventh, for those keeping track — Briles’ response when told about one of the gang-rape complaints was to say, “Those are some bad dudes. … Why was she around those guys?”
A better question would be why the Tiger-Cats, or any other team, would want to be around a bad dude like Briles?
The Tiger-Cats thought the risk was worth it, swayed by his long friendship with coach June Jones and his lengthy list of accomplishments. That Briles coached Robert Griffin III, who, according to ESPN, the Tiger-Cats just happen to get first crack at if the former Heisman Trophy winner decides to go the CFL route now that his NFL career has gone belly up, was surely just an added bonus.
“We just thought it was a very serious situation, but we also felt that after talking to dozens of people, people we trust, people we admire, that Art Briles is a good man that was caught in a very bad situation,” Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell said in an interview with Drew Edwards, who covers the team for 3Down Nation.
But what happened Monday ought to be a lesson to anyone who thinks they’re strong enough to shoulder Briles’ baggage.
In the hours after his hiring was announced, fans and advocacy groups were quick to register their disapproval. The strongest rebuke — and one that likely made the most impact — came from Barry’s, a jeweler that is a sponsor of the Tiger-Cats.
“We strongly condemn and urge the team’s management and ownership to immediately sever any ties they may have,” Barry’s said in a statement posted on its website and social media platforms.
“Mr. Briles may or may not have a valid coaching track record, but to choose the chance of winning football over the importance of values goes beyond our core values and is absolutely not acceptable.”
Barry’s also said it would contribute a portion of its sales the next two months to the Sexual Assault Center Hamilton and Area, and provided a link so others can donate, too.
By mid-afternoon, the CFL had released a statement saying it was “in continuing discussions” with the Tiger-Cats. But it was obvious that Briles’ fate has been sealed.
“Thank you to all that joined us in reinforcing the fact that zero tolerance is a simple concept,” Barry’s, the Tiger-Cats’ sponsor, said on Twitter after the CFL announced Briles’ dismissal.
Baylor’s problems went well beyond the football program. The Pepper Hamilton investigation found widespread denial about sexual violence, along with a tendency to blame the women who made complaints. But some of the harshest condemnation was reserved for the athletic department and Briles’ football program, where investigators found “a cultural perception that football was above the rules.”
Baylor regents said last fall that 19 players were accused of sexual assault by 17 different women between 2011 and 2014, including two players who were brought to Baylor by Briles despite being dismissed from previous schools for off-the-field incidents. A lawsuit filed in January alleged those numbers were woefully underestimated.
Now, it’s possible Briles has learned from his failings at Baylor. But his apologies so far have been tone deaf — he suggested in one that all could be forgiven with “a good cry session, a good talk session and then, hopefully, a hug session” — with no recognition of the responsibility he bears for fostering a culture of violence.
Granted, being an assistant coach for a professional team is better than Briles having 100 or so teenagers and 20-somethings under his care. But not by much.
Sexual violence is a societal problem for which there can be no tolerance, excuses or ignorance. Someone who has not demonstrated a clear understanding of this — quite the opposite, in fact — has no business being in any position of authority.
There might come a day when Briles is worthy of a second chance. Right now, that day seems very far away.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.