Let’s be clear: It’s not necessarily wrong that Kendal Briles is Florida State’s highly-paid offensive coordinator. I won’t go that far, and if people have gained the impression that I think Briles has no right to be hired by schools in need of a good play-caller, I need to be more specific than I have been in the past. This informs my view of the dismissal of Deondre Francois from Florida State’s program Sunday, not too long after a post on social media accused him, again, of domestic violence:
Deondre Francois dismissed from Florida State. pic.twitter.com/NvHt6v46yo
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) February 3, 2019
The more precise point I need (and needed) to make about Briles is that there is a difference between guilt and accountability, between failure and inadequacy, between bad behavior and a lack of ideal behavior. There is — or at least, there often can be — a lot of daylight between those different ends of a behavioral spectrum.
Kendal Briles isn’t necessarily a guilty man, but he IS a man, who has not yet been ACCOUNTABLE for his actions under his daddy, Art Briles, at Baylor.
Yes, Kendal Briles wasn’t at the top of an organizational structure, so he is not accountable for what happened to nearly the same degree as his father. We don’t really know everything about what Kendal Briles knew. We know a lot more about what Art Briles and former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw knew. They were the two people most fully in charge of the program. How much should Kendal Briles’ career suffer for the sins of his father? It all depends on how much Kendal himself knew.
We shouldn’t think he is guilty, but we certainly should expect him to be accountable for what happened, and to provide an explanation for why he didn’t do enough to stem the rape culture which emerged at Baylor. Maybe his explanation would be credible, and maybe it would not be — but he at least needed (and still does need, in the present tense) — to offer that public statement which basically says:
“I am accountable for my actions and did not know about various events This does not make me a good person — I need to be better and more vigilant, and I detest what happened under my father at Baylor — but it does mean I did not witness or learn about appalling behavior and fail to address it. I am acutely aware that I cannot tolerate such behavior now or at any point in my future coaching career.”
The public at least deserves that kind of statement in conjunction with a fuller public account of his time at Baylor. If his statement checked out, by all means, he would deserve to be hired by anyone… but in the absence of that kind of public disclosure, what is a wary population supposed to think about his level of involvement in everything bad which happened under his father at Baylor?
In the absence of taking at least some ownership of the situation and making a more profound acknowledgment of the pain and trauma caused to so many young women at Baylor under a program (poorly) monitored by his own father, everyone on the outside is left to think — and possibly FEAR — the worst about Kendal Briles.
That’s the more precise point I wanted to make when I criticized Florida State’s decision to hire him. The hiring wasn’t wrong in itself; the hiring was wrong (or perhaps premature) in the context of Kendal Briles not taking sufficient public ownership or accountability for the Baylor mess. Had Kendal done so, he could have cleared up misperceptions and improved public awareness of his role (or non-role, as it might be) in that awful series of events in Waco.
As it stands, Kendal Briles still hasn’t opened up to the public in a display of sunlight and transparency a billion-dollar college sports industry ought to expect from its well-compensated employees.
Now, turn to Francois.
Maybe he has been absolutely nailed to the wall for his behaviors. He might have done something quite terrible. I’m not saying or suggesting he didn’t However: I have seen plenty of schools wait longer than roughly 14 hours to make rulings in these sorts of situations. I have seen college athletes get away with similar levels of (alleged) behavior. Why is Francois so swiftly being dismissed?
A big reason is the previous similar allegations and circumstances last winter against Francois. He ended up not being charged and played in 2018.
Willie Taggart referred in the statement Sunday to having “the highest standards” in his program. That sounds great, but this is where the Kendal Briles hire — without a public statement of accountability from the offensive coordinator — comes back to make FSU and Taggart look bad.
It’s a very familiar story in college sports: The coach stays on board with his big paycheck (Briles), while the athlete is left to fend for himself. Again, this doesn’t mean Briles is automatically guilty. It doesn’t mean Francois is innocent, either.
It DOES mean that, as we have recently seen with Silvio De Sousa and Bill Self — and other NCAA basketball cases related to a range of events, including but not limited to the recent FBI investigation into payments involving shoe/apparel companies — the coach somehow regularly manages to skate free, while the athlete gets whacked. One gets a lot more due process or benefit of the doubt than the other.
Kendal Briles isn’t necessarily guilty. One must prove that first. Deondre Francois might not have committed a crime, but he clearly seems to have demonstrated terrible judgment, again, something which — in the realm of possible sexual abuse or domestic violence — can indeed be enough to merit dismissal from an athletic program. It’s not as though Briles being on FSU’s staff is inherently or automatically bad, or that Francois being dismissed is just as automatically unfair.
That’s not my point.
My point is that when a coach and an athlete get treated in two very different ways — something which just keeps happening with ceaseless regularity in college sports — we have to stop and ask ourselves why accountability isn’t a two-way street, and why coaches aren’t held to the same standards of athletes.
That’s my point, and I hope it sticks this time.
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