Ethics Dunce: Liberty University

That's McCaw on the left, Starr on the right, with the Baylor women's basketball team.

That’s McCaw on the left, Starr on the right, with the Baylor women’s basketball team.

Football is a sport, but in American culture its primary impact is as an ethics corrupter. The latest revolting example of this is occurring at Lynchburg, Virginia’s Liberty University, a prominent Christian fundamentalist institution founded by Jerry Falwell, the late TV evangelist and Religious Right icon. The school  is supposedly dedicated to imbuing its students with moral values, but if it comes to choosing between the Ten Commandments and pigskin glory, guess what comes out on top?

Last week, with great fanfare, Liberty hired Ian McCaw as its new athletic director. “My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America,” McCaw said during a news conference.

This is his first paying assignment since May, when he left his job as the athletic director at Baylor, also a Christian university. His departure was made essential after a thorough investigation that found that those overseeing Baylor’s  football team as well as the management of  the athletic department—that is, McCaw— had been informed of multiple gang rapes and sexual assault by team members and had ignored it, as any good football-loving Christian would….especially when a star was involved.

Baylor’s summary of its confidential investigation, overseen by the law firm of Pepper Hamilton, found that athletic program administrators and football coaches learned of accusations of gang and date rape over many years and did not report them or take appropriate action. This, the report found, “reinforces the perception that rules applicable to other students are not applicable to football players.”

Ethics Alarms calls this “The King’s Pass,” or “The Star Syndrome.” It is antithetical to moral and ethical principles, and, in theory, religion.

The report concluded that the “the choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University.”

The summary omitted all names, but accountability is clear: if a college football team’s  rape and sexual assault cover-up occurs on your watch as athletic director, you own it. McCaw’s boss, Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr), the Baylor University president and chancellor, was demoted for his mishandling of the scandal and ultimately resigned. Baylor also fired its $6 million a year football coach Art Briles, who reported to McCaw, because he had allowed a team culture of sexual misconduct to continue and flourish.  On the mitigating side, though, Briles won a lot of football games that brought in a lot of revenue, and that’s what really mattered to Baylor. And McCaw.

Obviously, that’s what matters to Liberty too, for all of its supposed fealty to Christian values. When McCaw’s hiring caused students to protest on the university’s Facebook page, Jerry Falwell, Jr., who now carries on his father’s good work, defended McCaw on the university’s website.  Liberty had conducted its own investigation, he said. Far from being fired McCaw’s “decision to resign was his own choice.” You know…like Richard Nixon, Ken Lay, Newt Gingrich, Eliot Spitzer, Debby Wasserman Schultz..

“If he made any mistakes at Baylor,” Falwell write, “they appear to be technical and unintentional.”

Sure. Technical. From the Baylor report summary:

Pepper’s findings of fact… reflect a fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA). Pepper found that Baylor’s efforts to implement Title IX were slow, ad hoc, and hindered by a lack of institutional support and engagement by senior leadership….University administrators that directly discouraged complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes, or that contributed to or accommodated a hostile environment. In one instance, those actions constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault. In addition to broader University failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence. Pepper’s findings also reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct.

Liberty’s new hire sends the  loud and unmistakable message that its principles and values—indeed, dear students, that ALL  principles and values—are adjustable when enough money and athletic success are within reach. It mocks the institution’s mission, and could and should serve as evidence when someone asks why organized religion is viewed with increasing cynicism by the young.


16 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Liberty University

  1. Jack,

    A wonderful post, though it brings up a disturbing sense of deja vu with regard to Penn State (among others). May I also say that, depressing as this story is, it’s nice to know the world is falling apart everywhere, and not just in relation to politics.

    Also, MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU, JACK MARSHALL! I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving and happy holidays to come!


      • Cheers for this world, here and now: it is NOT falling apart. It is having its rotten pieces exposed and the sound ones being painstakingly glued together again, however roughly. In other words, it is no longer a “rape culture” when the truly accountable are being counted ; it is once again on the road to a democracy when the “other” side is being demonstrably empowered; and faith in the future is still possible when we can still hear the ethics alarms (upper-case E’s and A’s included) above the clangor of cash register and “Xmas” pop music.

        So, another early holiday greeting and a very happy New Year, Jack.

  2. For-profit semi-professional football has absolutely nothing to do with higher education. It’s a vicious game. “Good” football players, the kind needed to win at the highest levels (SEC, Big 10, Pac 10, etc.) of college football (and generate lots of money) are inherently nasty guys. They don’t belong on college campuses. You have to be angry and mean to play that game. And crazy helps. Colleges should get out of the sports business. If they want to, to keep their fans happy, they should license their names to an NFL farm system.

    • I have a good friend who is not an inherently nasty guy. He joined the Marine Corps reserves to help get out of the shit hole he came from, went to collage after training on a football scholarship and played in the pros. He did well in school and even tutored for a while. He didn’t spend his free time raping women. As much as I agree with Jacks stance on football I can not agree that football reflects poorly on all players. Although he doesn’t play anymore he remains the calm mature man who he always has been. He continues to, as with many other players, spend a great deal of time volunteering and mentoring youths and adults.

      He is exactly the type of man we want on college campuses.

      • There are plenty of exceptions. And the NFL always highlights them ad nauseum. The guys who go on to dental school or medical school. Roger Staubach, Jack Kemp. Alan Page. Sure, there are a not insignificant number of guys who use college football as a way ahead, but those aren’t the guys you win big time titles with. Notre Dame is the classic example. They only recruit players who can pass calculus. Why would any first class football player who can do college level calculus go anywhere other than Stanford or Harvard or Cal? Notre Dame can’t compete against the Alabamas and OSUs and LSUs with second rate but fairly smart kids. (Personally, I think they should just drop football entirely if they want to be the Great American Catholic University.) And even Notre Dame has had its problem with “student athletes.” Give disadvantaged kids scholarships and help them succeed. Don’t make them toil away playing sports when they need to be in the class room and getting tutored. And please don’t tell me big time football is good for campus spirit and alumni relations. Baloney. (This is one of my hobby-horses. Sorry.)

        • Besides which, I don’t think anybody should be playing football with plastic pads and plastic helmets. They should ban face masks and plastic pads and helmets and make people crazy enough to play it play like rugby players who keep their heads out of trouble rather than use them as a weapon. Modern football is deadly.

          • Well, the abuses of professional players and the cover ups by their handlers have put an extremely minor dent in the NFL’s popularity. There’s a start.

            But I bet nothing changes until several high school-ers or middle school-ers are outright killed on the field during games to start the trend to limit game play among kids, which would lead eventually to a decrease of attention across the board for the sport. But I don’t see that happening.

            • Tex, it’s not going to take that. In my city, participation in youth football is way down. Mothers, a few fathers, and the kids themselves are starting to get it. The nfl is way down in popularity. It isn’t going away, at least in the next generation or two, but it’s going to be a different game.

                • Good for you, Tex. It’s going to take time but it has to stop at some point. And I think the drying up of players is the most likely means of it stopping.

                  In the meantime, I can’t believe cage fighting is legal, never mind broadcast and promoted nationally as if it is something other than human cock fighting. I suspect Jack has already posted on the non-ethics of that situation.

  3. Kudos to the students for having more moral fiber than the university, but they really should have done more than just protest on Facebook. You protest on Facebook when the campus cafeteria stops serving your favorite food. When the school hires rape-enabling slimeballs in direct defiance of the school’s mission, you march on the admin building.

  4. I hope the homeschooling parents with scholar-athletes will guide their young offspring to avoid the nest of corrupters Liberty U. has become.

  5. In read the article, and nowhere was it alleged that the university obstructed a criminal investigation. It did report that the university “either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence”.

    However, since when were universities supposed to do the job of cops? Why would a university have a greater obligation to investigate sexual assaults by its customers than the owner of a street corner taco stand have an obligation to investigate sexual assaults by his customers?

    Bonus points if you can tell me if the police have a legal obligation to protect you.

  6. The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.

    This ruling belies any idea that Baylor University had any sort of ethical duty to “to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence”

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