Grambling State's hire of fired Baylor coach Art Briles is a fresh stain for college sports | Opinion – USA TODAY

Art Briles should not be employed as a college football coach. Not if you believe character matters. Not if you believe leadership matters. Not if you believe a coach’s past conduct matters. And certainly not if you believe valuing women matters.
College football coaches are tasked with leading young men. Part of leading young men should involve building a culture that values and respects women and disciplining players who don’t.
Briles won games at an impressive clip at Baylor behind an innovative offense, but he failed as a leader. An investigation found Briles presided over a football program in which accusations of sexual assault and violence involving his players went unchecked. Two Baylor players were convicted of sexual assault.
The only explanation for Briles being a college football coach today is a belief that winning trumps all. Unfortunately, too many colleges fall into that category. Include Grambling State on that list.
Grambling hired Briles as its offensive coordinator, the school confirmed Thursday.
Now we know the penalty for getting fired as the coach of a football program that engaged in one of the ugliest scandals in college sports history: a six-year hiatus from college football.
“Any college that would hire Art Briles is certainly sending a message to survivors on that campus that their experiences aren’t that important,” said Brenda Tracy, a leading national advocate for sexual assault prevention, “and sending a message to young men that if you’re good enough at your job, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, you can still work in this field. It’s a damaging message.”
Tracy, in 2014, went public with her story that she was gang raped in 1998 by four football players, two of whom played for Oregon State. The accused men were never brought to trial or convicted.
MORE ON BRENDA TRACY: She reported college football players for gang rape. Now she’s on a mission.
BAYLOR ASSAULT SCANDAL: Key dates and developments
REACTION: Former Grambling star Doug Williams ‘very disappointed’ by school’s hiring of Briles
Tracy founded Set The Expectation, a nonprofit aimed at ending sexual and interpersonal violence, and she’s been invited to speak to college athletes throughout the country.
We often consider only the victim and the perpetrator when thinking about sexual assault, Tracy said, but there’s a third party: the enabler. And an enabler like Briles often goes overlooked, she said.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Well, he didn’t rape anyone. He didn’t sexually assault anyone.’ No, but he enabled that type of a culture,” Tracy said. “He maintained that type of a culture where people were harmed, and it’s not always about the victim and the perpetrator, but it’s all the people around them. That’s how you get a Larry Nassar. This is how you get a Baylor scandal, because of all the people, like him, that are involved.”
Baylor fired Briles in 2016 after it hired outside law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate the culture of sexual assault permeating throughout its football program and university. Pepper Hamilton’s report described Baylor’s football players as having “no culture of accountability for misconduct.” 
READ: Here’s the Pepper Hamilton 2016 report on Baylor football
An NCAA Committee on Infractions panel scrutinized Briles’ handling of specific instances of alleged violence, sexual assault and threats of violence.
Although the NCAA determined Briles’ inaction didn’t violate association bylaws, the panel blasted the culture he fostered.
Briles, the NCAA report stated, demonstrated an “incurious attitude toward potential criminal conduct by his student-athletes that was deeply troubling,” and he “failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case.”
READ: Here’s the NCAA report after its years-long investigation into Baylor football
“In each instance, when the head coach (Briles) received information from a staff member regarding potential criminal conduct by a football student-athlete, he did not report the information and did not personally look any further into the matter,” the NCAA report stated. “He generally relied on the information provided to him by his staff and likewise relied on them to handle problem.”
In other words, Briles abdicated his leadership responsibilities and enabled a repugnant culture to take root within Baylor football.
“Art Briles should not coach anywhere,” Tracy said. “Art Briles needs to retire. What happened at Baylor should have been egregious enough to completely end his career and anyone ever contemplating hiring him again.”
The sports world loves a second-chance narrative, and, certainly, some coaches or athletes who screwed up or ran afoul of NCAA rules deserve another shot at sports.
But I’ve wondered where the line is, or if one exists – whether a coach who wins at a high rate can be part of something so detestable that the coach becomes untouchable.
Briles’ transgressions at Baylor made him a litmus test for whether such a line exists. 
I asked Tracy whether Briles deserves as a second chance. 
“Second chances don’t have to include coaching football,” Tracy said. “A second chance would be him quietly going away and retiring and being a good citizen, taking responsibility and taking accountability for what’s happened – of which he’s done nothing.”
Not surprisingly, Grambling State is gripping the second-chance narrative like it’s a free pass to hire whomever it wants, regardless of Briles’ past failures.
GSU athletics director Trayvean Scott told ESPN that this hire affords the 66-year-old Briles “a chance to redeem himself,” and he added that Briles “just wants to coach and lead men.” Scott ignored that Baylor’s culture during Briles’ tenure showed he failed at leading young men.
“It’s upsetting, it’s disappointing, and it’s very frustrating, in general,” Tracy said of Briles’ hiring. “It kind of tells me everything I need to know about the decision-makers over there at Grambling and how they feel about sexual assault.”
Briles, in a 2016 interview with ESPN, acknowledged “some bad things” happened under his watch at Baylor.
“I’m sorry. I’m going to learn. I’m going to get better,” Briles said then.
If Briles cared about the best interests of women who were sexually assaulted, he’d stay out of coaching.
“Every time he comes back around and this news cycle comes back around, I think about all the victims who are being retraumatized over and over and over and over,” Tracy said.
Grambling State football boasts a proud tradition, but the Tigers went 4-11 the past two seasons. Coach Broderick Fobbs was fired in November, ending his eight-year tenure.
After Fobbs’ firing, the GSU football team reportedly expressed a “no vote of confidence” in university president Rick Gallot in a letter to University of Louisiana System officials. The letter, obtained by, lodged that Gallot was “the main contributor” to the football program’s decline.
Gallot hired former NFL coach Hue Jackson to replace Fobbs.
Jackson is familiar with Briles. He invited Briles to be a guest at a Cleveland Browns practice in 2019 while Jackson was Cleveland’s coach. Jackson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time that he embraced the opportunity to learn from Briles’ “tremendous offensive mind,” and he cast Briles as a sympathetic figure.
“We’ve all been kind of knocked down before. I have too,” Jackson told the newspaper.
Jackson had it wrong.
Briles wasn’t knocked down at Baylor. He was fired for his failures as the leader of a football program that victimized women, and his re-entry into college football is another stain on a sport that knows no shame.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. 


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