On a Friday evening news dump just before the start of a holiday weekend, the Mt. Vernon Independent School district announced that it had hired ex-Baylor coach Art Briles to lead the Texas high school’s football team. Superintendent Jason McCullough said during a Facebook live session that the school board approved the hiring in a 7-0 vote. Briles Skyped into the meeting from Italy, where he was serving as head coach of Florence’s Italian Football League team, Guelfi Firenze. The team’s players and fans greeted him warmly when his face appeared on screen.
This hire comes nearly three years after Baylor fired Briles after an investigation found that the school had seriously mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct and violence against players on the football team. The Pepper Hamilton firm’s investigation found that 19 football players had sexually assaulted at least 17 women during Briles’ tenure with the team. One lawsuit against the program alleged that as many as 52 rapes occurred in that same span.
The press release that Mt. Vernon used to announce the hire unsurprisingly does not mention any of this in the slightest—the closest it comes to even mildly acknowledging some past issues is when it brings up the district’s Title IX coordinator—and it spits in the face of any allegations of misconduct with a collection of tone-deaf tidbits.
McCullough kicks things off by saying that Briles brings a wealth of life experience, and is passionate about helping students succeed “both on the field and in life.” Briles showed that he also brings an incredible lack of self-awareness to the program when he says, “You’ll make no bigger impact in this world than when you shape the lives of young people.” Of course, no controversial hire is complete without some older dude speaking highly of the disgraced individual’s character. That’s where Grant Teaff, former Executive Director of the American Football Coaches Association and supervisor of the association’s Ethics Committee, came in with a classic of his own: “I have observed him as a man, husband, father, grandfather, and as a coach, always forthright and stellar.” But the cherry on top of this shit sundae was the fact that the press release made sure to note the lack of recruiting violations Briles incurred while coaching college football, as if that was the main problem at hand.
The implications of this hire won’t be lost on anyone with even a minimal understanding of Baylor’s scandal. Bringing in Briles is clear proof that Mt. Vernon High School values winning football games over understanding the feelings and voices of sexual assault and rape survivors, especially those who attend that school. But it also shows that the powers behind this misogynistic decision are shriveling cowards because they tried to hide it in a Friday news dump. If the school had only taken the time it spent figuring out the best way to smuggle this news past the long weekend and instead used it to look up any number of coaches that did not oversee a program with widespread issues of sexual assault, they might not be in this mess.
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