It happened again.
Last week, Art Briles — the former Baylor head football coach who was fired in 2016 because of the rampant culture of sexual assault in his program — got another job interview with an elite football program.
This time, Briles was brought in for the offensive coordinator position at Southern Miss University, an NCAA Division I program that plays in Conference USA. Perhaps because of the understandable outrage that ensued when word of his interview became public — after all, according to one lawsuit, 31 football players were accused of committing 52 rapes at Baylor in a four-year period under Briles’ watch — Dr. Rodney Bennett, the president of the university, quickly announced that Briles was no longer a candidate for the position.
Rather than let the controversy end there, Southern Miss head football coach Jay Hopson publicly shared his displeasure towards his boss, releasing an indignant statement that began by invoking a higher power: “Although I respect the decision of Dr. Rodney Bennett, I disagree with it. I am so grateful for the Grace & forgiveness God gives me which allows me to inherit his kingdom, which I do not deserve.”
According to Hopson, Briles — an enabler of rape — “seemed sincere & humble in his interview.” Plus, Hopson stressed, Briles shares his faith.
“I believe he is a man who does love the Lord and deserves a second chance,” Hopson wrote. “He has been banned from employment in college football for 3yrs and has been punished.”
Hopson’s statement takes a page out of Briles’ own playbook, by weaponizing faith and forgiveness as a way to shield those in power from accountability. In fact, Briles quite literally wrote a book on faith and football. (Beating Goliath: My Story of Football and Faith was published in 2014, a year before the Baylor sexual assault scandal began to amass headlines.)
Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson on Art Briles pic.twitter.com/X124t9JHxD
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) February 6, 2019
But now, thanks to excellent reporting by Nicole Auerbach at The Athletic, we know more about why Hopson felt the need to double-cross his boss in public and stand up for Briles; it seems the two have more in common than just religion and football.
According to Auerbach, last month Hopson tried to recruit junior college transfer Charles West. In 2015, West was accused of raping two women at knifepoint. Both alleged victims did not want to testify in front of West, so the criminal case was downgraded to assault with a deadly weapon, and a plea deal was reached in both incidents.
Hopson was well aware of West’s past when he signed him in early January. However, Hopson did not notify Southern Miss administrators about West’s history; they came across reports of the incidents independently, and only then was West’s admission denied.
This isn’t exactly new behavior for Hopson; when he was the head coach at Alcorn State, Auerbach reports that he recruited a registered sex offender and allowed a student-athlete to continue to play in games while rape charges were pending.
Considering that in his statement about Briles, Hopson said, “[Briles] may not have acted in the proper protocol, but that would be my JOB at Southern Miss,” this is incredibly important context. Hopson, too, has a history of preaching faith and forgiveness only when it’s in the service of winning football games.
Last week, right as all of this Briles/Southern Miss news was breaking, Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon — who broke the initial story about sexual assault at Baylor in 2015 — posted a deep dive at Deadspin examining how the scandal at Baylor unfolded under Briles’ leadership. The story focused on Baylor’s Baptist roots, and the fact that the religious principles the school so heavily promoted were a big reason why many women decided to attend the school in the first place. They thought they’d be safe there. Instead, they were sexually assaulted, and those in power — such as Briles — looked the other way.
“What [the women, who would go on to be sexually assaulted at Baylor] didn’t know when they enrolled was that the combination of Baylor’s culture and a set of newly-established ambitions had created a university that was unusually safe—but not for them. It was a safe place for football coaches who could do no wrong, for players whose transfers from other teams after being accused of violence were billed as the first half of a redemption story, for young men whose potential was prioritized over that of their female classmates, and for university leaders who prized their reputation over the safety of the women who studied there,” wrote Luther and Solomon.
In reality, what Briles did was offer second chances to men with violent pasts so that they could help him win football games. He justified this by biovating about religion and redemption, and then providing no guidance, assistance, or accountability when his “redeemed” football players abused women in the Baylor community.
And absolutely nothing Briles has done over the past few years has shown he has learned any other way of operating. In fact, he has publicly stated that his priority since losing his job is helping others around him who helped enable this culture of sexual assault to regain positions of authority.
“My main focus has been to help those who were with me land on their feet…. It just didn’t affect me,” Briles said back in 2017, during one of his non-apology tours. “It affected numerous office personnel, strength staff and all the coaches. My main focus, honestly, this year has been to make sure they can continue doing what they love doing and provide for their families. So, that’s where I’ve been.”
Briles views himself and other coaches and administrators who were fired from Baylor as the true victims in all of this. And men like Hopson agree. They continue to bastardize the concepts of faith and forgiveness as a short-cut to redemption, without putting in any of the real work the notions require. Briles and his enablers didn’t invent the game, they have just perfected it. It didn’t work this time, but they’ll likely give the strategy another second chance soon enough.