Chicago Tribune reporting on Wheaton College hazing incident seems solid, but pay close attention


That's the only way to describe the reported circumstances of a hazing incident involving football players at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical college in the Chicago area.

I say "reported circumstances" because we don't know all the facts at this point.

But what do know makes one's blood boil: Let's start at the top of the Chicago Tribune's front-page story, which seems extremely solid:

Five Wheaton College football players face felony charges after being accused of a 2016 hazing incident in which a freshman teammate was restrained with duct tape, beaten and left half-naked with two torn shoulders on a baseball field.
A DuPage County judge signed arrest warrants and set $50,000 bonds against the players — James Cooksey, Kyler Kregel, Benjamin Pettway, Noah Spielman and Samuel TeBos — late Monday afternoon. Prosecutors charged the athletes with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.
They are expected to turn themselves in to authorities this week.

Keep reading, and here is the part that doesn't make sense to me: The accused are still playing — or have been playing — football for Wheaton:

The victim, who the Tribune is not naming, left the conservative Christian school shortly after the incident and now attends college in Indiana.
"This has had a devastating effect on my life," he said in a statement to the Tribune. "What was done to me should never occur in connection with a football program or any other activity. ... I am confident that the criminal prosecution will provide a fair and just punishment to the men who attacked me."
The college released a statement late Monday saying it was "deeply troubled" by the allegations because it strives to provide an educational environment free from hazing and reflective of the school's religious values. The school said it hired a third party to investigate the allegation last year and took "corrective actions," but officials declined to provide details on any punishment, citing federal privacy laws.
Sources told the Tribune that several players were required to perform 50 hours of community service and write an eight-page essay reflecting on their behavior.

Over at the American Conservative, Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher opines:

Read the whole thing. If the Tribune‘s sources are correct, Wheaton College — freaking Wheaton! — let its football players skate, basically, after torturing at least one, probably two, freshmen as part of a hazing ritual.

Later, Dreher updated his post to advise caution in rushing to judgment:

A friend I trust who is close to Wheaton strongly cautions against jumping to conclusions. He is hearing that the facts do not match what has been reported so far. Good advice. Remember Haven Monahan.

(If that name doesn't ring a bell, click here.)

Elsewhere, Washington Post writers — including Godbeat pro and Wheaton alumnus Sarah Pulliam Bailey — offer some helpful background:

The reports of anti-Muslim behavior during the course of the incident came within months of college leaders clashing with a professor over Muslim-Christian relations. Former political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who wore a hijab in support of Muslims, wrote on Facebook that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Her comment went viral and outraged conservative alumni, and she eventually left the college and became a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.
Just months later, according to the documents obtained by the Tribune, the assault of the student took place.
“Oh my gosh,” Hawkins said, as she considered the timeline of events.
“The ignorance of well-educated students,” she said while taking a deep breath, “it’s so reprehensible.”

For journalists, of course, the question of what the students did is just one aspect of this story. Other, perhaps bigger questions: How did leaders of the Christian institution respond to what happened? Did they investigate fully? Did they take proper action against the perpetrators? Did they minister to the victim in a Christian manner? Did the campus culture and environment contribute in any way to the hazing incident?

As the Post notes, Wheaton isn't the first evangelical institution roiled by a nasty scandal involving its football team:

Another Christian institution, Baylor University, was involved in a high-profile scandal that emerged in 2016 after 19 football players were accused of violence against women, including four instances of gang rape. Baylor’s athletic director at the time, Ian McCaw, was hired at Liberty University in late 2016.

Today's front-page story is not the end of the story. It's just the beginning.

Stay tuned.

Home page image via Chicago Tribune

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