There’s been no shortage of coverage regarding Baylor University’s response and handling of the sexual assaults, Title IX infractions, and additional legal issues their football team has been the genesis of recently. You might think there’s been more than enough media attention. However, considering it’s been a seemingly endless parade of missteps, tone deaf statements, and blunders, and I’m not the media, strap in for more column inches dedicated to the same topic.
I imagine that first paragraph is far more dense than you were expecting. Usually, this space is reserved for cheap jokes and the occasional song parody (the highest art form). But, my choices for topics were the Big 12’s laughably bad performance through the nonconference season, the somehow even worse performance of Big 12 replay officials, or something called Big 12 expansion. I’ve never even heard anyone mention that last one before and I’m not interested in such niche topics.
So, we’re going to examine the recent statements and clarifications from Baylor interim Head Coach Jim Grobe (before you say he’s not interim, wait four months and come back), and starting QB Seth Russell. Don’t worry. I’ll keep it as light and breezy as possible
Seth Russell on Shawn Oakman in the locker room
After their 38-10 victory over Rice in Houston last Friday, Baylor celebrated in the locker room with former defensive end and massive human Shawn Oakman, who was also recently indicted for second-degree felony assault.
For any college football team, this is a less than ideal situation. For one that’s made recent headlines almost exclusively for the legal troubles of their players, and the inability of the university to correctly respond to them, it’s a PR nightmare. So naturally, both Grobe and Russell were asked about the situation as soon as the public learned of it.
“That’s more of a personal deal,” Russell answered. “‘What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room’, type of deal.”
Probably a poor choice of words. Oakman is unwelcome because of his pending assault charges, so maybe don’t talk about keeping what happens behind closed doors a secret. But, please continue.
“He’s a great guy, just in a bad situation. We’re not going to hold anything against him. He was a part of the team and he’s still a part of Baylor. We’re going to love him just as much as anybody else.”
They’re former teammates. Russell is giving him the benefit of the doubt and presuming Oakman’s innocence. I get that, and I actually don’t blame Russell for expressing this sentiment. That statement alone isn’t ideal from a PR standpoint, but it isn’t that different than most you’d find out of the mouth of a teammate speaking about a troubled player. Overall, an innocuous score of 7.
Shortly after this statement, a Baylor representative publicly stated that Oakman “is not permitted at Baylor-owned facilities nor in the locker room at future away games.” So, despite QB1’s feelings, it seems Oakman is not still a part of Baylor and they are, in fact, holding something against him.
Russell then decided that wasn’t enough and released a new statement clarifying his remarks on Oakman.
“When I was asked to comment on what I thought of a former teammate, I answered the question in the context of his actions on the field and how he related directly within our team and how I personally knew him. As far as any external events that he is going through, I would hope there are still people that would let due process and the justice system work.”
That is more or less the gist of his original statement, yes? Why are we hearing from you again about this?
“I take very seriously the responsibility to uphold the highest standard of integrity and character in representing Baylor University, my teammates and myself. I can only answer questions within my personal knowledge and interaction.”
Again, not particularly new information being presented here. Sad that he was forced to clarify what was a pretty clear statement based on overreactions to it. But, allow me to overreact slightly to this. Russell’s “personal knowledge” includes Oakman’s current situation. He commented that he understood Oakman’s predicament. So, I do have a slight issue with that statement. Just take an honest stance one way or the other. A little late to claim ignorance though. Maybe that wasn’t his intention, but that’s how it plays. He can always come back and clarify a second time, I guess.
“I do understand the microscope that all of us here at Baylor are under. While I can’t control the actions of any individual or how anyone perceives Baylor as a whole, my optimism and faith is that others outside would be objective and can see the actions of the vast majority of us at Baylor does uphold those highest of standards in grace, humility, and integrity.”
This is a strong finish, and arguably the best PR statement that’s come out of Waco in the past couple years. Of course, it doesn’t take a majority to create a culture when it comes to sexual assault and similar crimes. It’s never been claimed that a majority of Baylor students, or even football players, were guilty of violating other students. And that Russell and many others are a shining example of upstanding citizenship doesn’t excuse the actions of other individuals.
But, I think everyone outside of the university would applaud a real and appreciable effort to clean up the program. That simply hasn’t occurred yet, thanks in part to events like the one Russell was forced to comment on twice.
Jim Grobe on Shawn Oakman, mystery man
While Russell’s effort was commendable but imperfect, his head coach’s statement on Shawn Oakman was perfectly ridiculous.
“I don’t know who Shawn Oakman is. So I wouldn’t be able to recognize him if he walked in the door right now,”
He’s 6’9” and nearly 300 pounds. He has been one of the most recognizable players in college football for the past two seasons.
Is it possible Grobe has never met Oakman? Absolutely.
Is it possible that Grobe wouldn’t know for a fact that the giant human hanging around his players was in fact Shawn Oakman? It is.
Does Jim Grobe, a man who has been involved and tuned into college football for decades, and who was hired to help Baylor overcome the exact issues that Oakman currently embodies, not “know who Shawn Oakman is”? He’d better.
“There were a lot of people around at the end of the game. There are always a lot of people around.”
Jim Grobe didn’t sign up to check IDs and be the bouncer to the visitor’s locker room. He’s here to pretend to coach football, damn it.
“But I had no issues.”
“I didn’t know he was there”
“or know who he is.”
But wait, there’s more. Like his QB before him, Grobe also needed a second crack at getting his message just right on this issue.
“I’d like to clarify some things from our press conference from earlier this week.”
Oh no, he’s going to make it worse isn’t he?
“On Monday the question was asked if I knew that Shawn Oakman was in the locker room in the game. I responded that I do not know Shawn Oakman, and with that I mean that I’ve never met him.”
“I do not know him” does not equal “I do not know who he is.” I don’t know Jim Grobe, but if I were to type that I don’t know who Jim Grobe is that might hurt my credibility.
“He did not play for me, I did not recruit him, and I wouldn’t recognize him.”
OK, we’re turning this thing around with two incontrovertible facts and a likely truth.
“Had I recognized him, the situation would have been handled differently, but regardless of that, my comment of ‘I don’t know him’ was taken out of context”
Grobe is having another problem with the language here. Are we sure he’s a native English speaker? “Out of context” typically isn’t used when an entire multiple sentence quote is printed verbatim and the transcript of the press conference is made available.
“and the way it was portrayed by some in the media, in my opinion, was unprofessional and unfair.”
Sir, I’ll have you know I’m extremely professional. (Googles “what rhymes with ‘Gundy Mullet)
“Maybe it would have been appropriate to follow up the question with, ‘Do you know that Shawn Oakman played for Baylor?’”
Asking this question would have been extremely unprofessional for credentialed media. ‘Quick follow up, Coach, do you know football, or at least know what football is?’ or, ‘Did you know that after his senior season he was charged with a criminal offense?’
“To those questions I would have obviously answered yes.”
Jim Grobe is a pro at answering his own softball questions.
“I’m very aware of the misconduct issues that impacted this program prior to my arrival and the players involved”
“Very aware” of players involved, but he doesn’t know them nor is he able to recognize them. Thankfully, there’s no more NCAA Football video game or Grobe’s awareness rating would be putrid.
“but my focus and my priority from the day I arrived have been the actions of both on and off the field of the guys who play for me now.”
Do you think he understands the guys who play for him now were also in the locker room when Oakman came in? That’s why you’re being asked about it, Coach. I don’t think anyone cares if Shawn Oakman walks into empty locker rooms.
“The locker room after a game, and particularly after a win, can be a busy environment. There was not security to prevent people from coming onto the field”
There probably should be. There’s smart people at Rice. They should look into this.
“and it is not unusual that former players come into the locker room after a game, especially after a win. I do not believe it was a good idea for Shawn to be in our locker room, and had I been made aware of the situation in advance, it would not have happened.”
OK, look. I realize breaking down anyone’s statements so granularly makes it easy to point out inaccuracies and mistakes. But, it’s easier than ever with Grobe’s quotes. His finishing flourish here is probably my favorite. Let me paraphrase: ‘Former players are always coming into the locker room, but I had no idea this former player would come into the locker room. If someone would tell me before anything happened, I would prevent bad things from happening.’
Jim Grobe would like to work in the pre-crime division, please. Get Tom Cruise on the phone. And tell Mike Gundy to fax over his gameplan for Saturday. Afterall, if he doesn’t tell Grobe about what’s about to happen in advance, how is he supposed to stop it?