Marist welcomed freelance journalist Jessica Luther to campus last Tuesday night to discuss her groundbreaking discoveries on the Baylor football scandal.
“There was nothing reported about the story when I got the tip,” said Luther.
Baylor University received a lawsuit from a graduate back in 2017 that included allegations against 31 Baylor football players for 52 separate accounts of rape between 2011 and 2014. The graduate included that she, herself, was also a victim of these allegations back in 2013. Jessica Luther was aware of many of these allegations well before when it went public back in 2017.
“I was tipped that a Baylor football player was going to trial for sexual assault in 2013,” said Luther.
According to Luther, the player had been previously dismissed at Boise State before transferring into Baylor. Those who knew the player at his former school warned Baylor about his past behavior.
“The athletic directors at Boise were very worried that he was going to hurt others,” said Luther. “Three months into his sitting year, his girlfriend reported him to the school and to the Waco Police Department. He was indicted the following summer.”
Recently, Baylor football standout defensive end Shawn Oakman was found not guilty on charges of sexual assault on February 28, 2019. Prior to these allegations, plenty of early mock drafts had Oakman projected as a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Luther contributed the lack of coverage from media and advocacy from the fanbase on the matter towards the religious roots that Baylor sits upon.
“Baylor is the largest Baptist university in the world,” said Luther. “The Christian underpinnings of Baylor made it hard to discuss things like this.”
If you go to Baylor’s website, you can easily find their mission which can attest to some of these Christian underpinnings that Luther was getting at. The mission states, “Baylor’s mission is to educate students for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment in a caring community.”
Luther is known in the sports world as a top tier investigative reporter where the lines between sports and accountability tend to blur. Her detailed and lengthy coverage of this scandal is something that gave her the national recognition that she has today. She received the Halberstam Award for “sticking it to power” on the scandal along with her business partner Dan Solomon.
She now has a weekly independent feminist sports podcast called “Burn It All Down” that brings an alternative perspective to sports coverage through the female eye.
Once the story finally found its light in the media, the trickle effect immediately took place. By 2016, head football coach Art Briles had his contract terminated and Baylor University President Ken Starr resigned due to the backlash. Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford was forced to resign as well. Jessica Luther points out her key emphasis when her reporting can create a domino effect like this one.
“I don’t want to defame,” said Luther. “I want to be as fair as I can possibly be with the information that I’ve been given.”