You can't buy the kind of front-page publicity the New York Times gave Baylor University the other day.
Honestly, you wouldn't want to.
This was the Page 1 headline Friday as the national newspaper added another, in-depth chapter to the sad story of sin and scandal at the world's largest Baptist university: "Baylor's Pride Turns to Shame in Rape Scandal."
The New York Times focuses on one rape victim while providing a detailed overview of the string of sexual assault cases involving Baylor football players that have made national headlines for months.
Before discussing the recent coverage, I'll remind readers of GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly's past posts on the scandal at his Waco, Texas, alma mater. Our own tmatt (who as a student journalist in the 1970s was involved in student-newspaper coverage of issues linked to sexual assaults) expounded last year on what he describes as "the 'double whammy' facing Baylor (with good cause)":
First, there is a solid religion angle here as the Baylor Regents try to defend their school, while repenting at the same time. Does Baylor want to live out its own moral doctrines? ...
Then there will be sports reporters covering the Baylor crisis and the complicated sexual-assault issues [that NCAA officials are said to be probing] on those 200 or so other campuses. I am sure (not) that the sports czars at other schools never blur the line between campus discipline and the work of local police. Perhaps some other schools are struggling to provide justice for women, while striving to allow the accused to retain their legal rights (while also remembering that a sports scholarship is a very real benefit linked to a contract)?
In a related post, tmatt delved into this key question:
Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths
My own limited, personal experience with Baylor came in 2003 during my time with The Associated Press in Dallas. For a few months, it seemed like I spent half my life driving back and forth on Interstate 35 as I covered the slaying of 21-year-old basketball player Patrick Dennehy and the ensuing disclosure of major NCAA violations in Baylor's basketball program.
At that time, I wrote a piece with this headline:
Can Baylor balance Christian mission, on-court success?
The lede on that story published in September 2003:
With the Baylor basketball program at a low ebb and reeling from probation for serious rules violations, the world's largest Baptist university turned to a coach praised for his ethics and integrity.
"Success is not just measured in wins," said the man named to rebuild Baylor's faltering program.
The year was 1999 and the coach — Dave Bliss.
Now, a new coach, Scott Drew, faces the challenge of cleaning up Bliss' mess and answering this question: Can Baylor practice the Christian mission it preaches and still succeed in the pressurized world of NCAA Division I athletics?
So while I understand the narrative -- by the New York Times and other media -- that Baylor's difficulty balancing its Christian ideals and big-time sports ambitions began with football coach Art Briles' hiring before the 2008 season, the real story is more complicated than that. And as tmatt noted, Baylor has for decades been debating how to live out its own doctrines about sexual morality.
The fact that Baylor has promised to clean up its act after past athletics scandals, and seemed to fail miserably, does not make the current crisis any less distressing or the university's reportedly egregious treatment of women sexually assaulted by football players any less revolting.
The New York Times -- in meticulous, excruciating fashion that makes for powerful journalism but difficult reading -- highlights Baylor's championship-level hypocrisy. And yes, the Grand Canyon-sized gulf between the Christian values the university espouses and the rape culture that top Baylor officials are accused of fostering figures prominently.
Does that mean that the Old Gray Lady covers the religion angle?
I mean, the New York Times makes clear that the scandal is all the more shocking because of Baylor's religious affiliation:
Collectively, the cases have become a cautionary parable for modern-day college athletics, one in which a Christian university seemed to lose sight of its core values in pursuit of football glory and protected gridiron heroes who preyed on women.
In a statement to The New York Times on Monday, Baylor officials said the university was committed to “doing the right thing” — through self-examination, repeated apologies and making 105 recommended changes to its policies and structure.
“Our mission statement calls for a caring community based on Christian principles, and any act of sexual violence is inimical to these standards,” the statement said. Even so, the scandal has not sat well in Texas.
Also, the story refers at least twice to the university's Baptist foundation. But religion is addressed mostly in a surface-level way and kept at the periphery in the New York Times report.
However, that's not necessarily a criticism, since the same might be said of the place of Christianity in Baylor's football program as women were being raped and their cries for help ignored.