Brenda Tracy’s voice caught, and she started crying as she has, off and on, since Saturday morning when she first saw a photo of Baylor fans lining up to buy T-shirts to wear in support of Art Briles, the former football coach fired in the wake of a wide-ranging sexual assault scandal. Recent reports now include explosive allegations of gang rapes committed by Briles’ former players.
“The photo itself is so hurtful,” Tracy told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday afternoon. “To see this person selling those T-shirts and all those people standing in line — it was so hurtful. My heart was breaking for these survivors because I know what they must be feeling like. I just couldn’t believe how cruel and callous and mean people can be.
“I get that you like Art Briles, and that’s fine. You can think he’s a good football coach, but when you’re campaigning for him, you’re campaigning against these survivors. What you’re doing is so extremely hurtful."
Tracy, who said she was gang-raped by then-Oregon State football players in 1998 and has since become an advocate for rape survivors, has been frustrated all fall by Baylor’s tone-deaf response to a university-wide sexual assault scandal that also engulfed the football program and cost school president Ken Starr, athletic director Ian McCaw and Briles their jobs. Tracy even had visited with the team earlier this year to share her story and ideally help football players understand consent and sexual assault prevention.
Now, after seeing the Baylor team take the field on Saturday in black uniforms and fans wearing those #CAB T-shirts, Tracy believes the school should cancel the rest of the football season.
“All this stuff keeps coming out and these people just keep defending that man (Briles) — at the expense of all these victims and survivors — and I don’t get it,” Tracy said. “I don’t understand why nobody is standing up and saying something about it. … You know that this is being organized. Why would you do this?”
Tracy paused to regain her composure.
“I just don’t understand why,” she said. “I think about 15 years of wanting to take my own life. I think about how badly I wanted to die every day. I think about these young women, and they’re already traumatized by a rape, especially the women who were gang-raped. They’re already struggling to survive, and you are putting this further trauma on top of them. It’s like spitting in their faces.
“I think about how much they must be struggling — and how shameful it is of Baylor in this football season to not even care what these victims are going through. I’m so angry with them. … You’re making sure their lives are destroyed. People treat us (rape survivors) like we’re not even human, like we don’t even matter."
Tracy read about Harvard canceling the remainder of its men’s soccer season after it discovered those players had sexually objectified and written lewd observations of members of the women’s soccer team. She thinks that’s what Baylor should do with its football program — nothing the university has done so far has really shown that the players, coaches and program as a whole have learned anything from this scandal.
“Why can’t Baylor end the season for this?” Tracy said. “To me, this is egregious behavior. This is not OK on any level. You cannot tell me that those assistant coaches and players didn’t know what they were doing."
After the release of the Pepper Hamilton report earlier this year, nine assistant coaches remained with the football program, now under direction of interim coach Jim Grobe. Those assistant coaches have remained steadfastly loyal to Briles amid what they perceive is an unjust firing, trying to convince visitors like Tracy that Briles did nothing wrong, and tweeting out statements disputing the new news reports regarding a 2011 gang rape.
Kendal Briles, Art Briles’ son and the Bears’ offensive coordinator, wrote the letters CAB — for Coach Art Briles — on his hands during Baylor’s season-opening win.
Since then, the hashtag #CAB has gained traction among those in the Baylor fan base who believe the scandal is part of some wide-ranging conspiracy to oust the school’s most successful football coach; this subset of fans also tends to believe that the sexual assault survivors who have come forward are either lying or anomalies and not part of a program-wide or school-wide problem.
#CAB T-shirts and the subsequent push for a “blackout” to protest Briles’ firing were planned for Saturday’s game against TCU. Baylor players wore black uniforms, too, although the team denied that the uniforms were for any other reason than that of a heated rivalry against the Horned Frogs.
“No,” Tracy said. “You know that you’re embroiled in this scandal. You are intentionally doing things to be hurtful and spiteful. I felt like that game and those uniforms were so disrespectful. … Those assistant coaches, I’m so frustrated with them. What type of leadership is that? You should not have those kids in black uniforms. You know what black uniforms stand for. Even if those kids were innocent, and, ‘Oh it’s just a game and we do this every year' — in the middle of this scandal, and people trying to organize blackout for Art Briles, you don’t do it. Period."
Tracy said she’s tried to give Baylor the benefit of the doubt in the past, particularly because Grobe had invited her to visit with the team. She wants to believe that the players were engaged and absorbed her lesson. She wanted to believe that the coaching staff was, too.
But receivers coach Tate Wallis accosted her afterward, trying to convince her Briles had done nothing wrong and she shouldn’t even have visited. And she’s watched the other assistants tweet #TruthDontLie and other related hashtags to support Briles and antagonize those in the Baylor university administration who do want to address the scandal and implement changes.
So Tracy says she is done being optimistic — and is now calling for the rest of the football season to be canceled. She believes only a drastic measure will actually affect change at this point.
Baylor (6-2) has four games left in the regular season.