There was grand news out of Lynchburg, Va., last week: Liberty University announced that it had hired Ian McCaw, a “godly man of excellent character,” as its athletic director.
Liberty, which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian university, has large appetites, and it desires to vault into the big time. And McCaw, a man with the angular build and cobalt blue-eyed intensity of an ultramarathon runner, has achieved much success in his three decades in college sports.
“My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America,” McCaw said during a news conference in Lynchburg.
McCaw is well acquainted with Christian athletics. In May, he left his job as the athletic director at Baylor, another eminent Christian university. His departure followed a devastating investigation that found that the leaders of the football team and the athletic department had looked away when told of multiple gang rapes and sexual assault.
I would not bury a man without offering a dollop of praise. During McCaw’s tenure, the football team prospered mightily. There were a Heisman Trophy winner, two Big 12 championships and breathless news media coverage of its down-home coach, Art Briles, and his whiskey-cured voice. And Baylor University leveraged that success into a $260 million stadium of the sort that spots the landscape of Texas like pimples on the rear of a steer.
Liberty plays football in Division I’s second rung. The university is run by Jerry Falwell Jr., a godly sort who understands the need for occasional accommodation with the secular world. Earlier this year he strolled around the Republican National Convention with his candidate, Donald J. Trump, a thrice-married man whom numerous women have accused of sexually harassing them.
This did not please Liberty’s students, who are expected to abide by the Liberty Way, which sets strict personal guidelines including, but not limited to, no NC-17 movies, no face piercings, no naughty music, and absolutely no canoodling, such as hanging out alone with a person of the opposite sex. Getting caught in a “state of undress” with the opposite sex is good for a $250 fine and 18 hours of community service.
When a Liberty student penned an editorial critical of Trump for the campus newspaper, Falwell censored it. (Liberty University also teaches Young Earth creationism, which is the belief that God created the universe, Earth and life in the last 10,000 years.)
The hiring of McCaw has also proved contentious. As the university’sFacebook page filled up with angry comments, Falwell felt compelled to offer explanations on the university’s website. He said Liberty had conducted an “investigation.” It found that McCaw was a fine man. Far from being pushed out of Baylor, Falwell said, McCaw’s “decision to resign was his own choice.”
“If he made any mistakes at Baylor,” Falwell said — let us pause here to appreciate his use of the conditional — “they appear to be technical and unintentional.” There is not an athletic director in America, Falwell added, who better understands the importance of complying with federal guidelines on reporting any sexual assault on a campus.
And thus tin is transmuted into gold.
At this point, it’s worth recalling the summary that Baylor provided about its confidential investigation. The law firm Pepper Hamilton, which oversaw the inquiry, said it had found 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 report’s summary gloried in passive language, and in an act of apparent Christian charity, it omitted all names and, therefore, any accountability.
But this is what it meant, if not what it said: Athletic leaders (that would be McCaw) and football coaches learned of accusations of gang and date rape and decided not to report that violence; they met with the alleged victims, and their parents, and still did nothing.
The football team existed in the same hermetic world found at too many top college programs. This, the report found, “reinforces the perception” — and, of course, the reality — “that rules applicable to other students are not applicable to football players.”
McCaw, who had spoken of his hand-in-glove working relationship with Briles, oversaw all of this. When Briles chose to bring in Sam Ukwuachu, a talented defensive end who transferred from Boise State, all involved should have known his background, which was deeply troubling.
At 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, Ukwuachu was a terror to opposing quarterbacks, and to women with the misfortune to make his acquaintance. At Boise State, he was found to have beaten a former girlfriend. He was nonetheless welcomed at Baylor. While forgoing football for the year required of athletic transfers, he sexually assaulted a freshman soccer player. According to Texas Monthly, Baylor officials made a few not-so-pointed inquiries and cleared Ukwuachu. . .