The new Showtime documentary Disgraced by director Pat Kondelis focuses on the murder of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy at the hands of teammate Carlton Dotson while dissecting the attempts of Baylor head coach Dave Bliss to cover up the fact that he was paying the tuition and expenses of Dennehy. Kondelis spoke with the Houston Press about his approach to covering Bliss.
The prime subject of the documentary, even more than Dennehy and Dotson, turns out to be Bliss, who continues to repeat that Dotson was a drug dealer despite the lack of any evidence. Bliss initially repeats this allegation, but requests to do so off-camera. Kondelis said he never agreed to go off-camera, and he also said Bliss repeated the allegation many, many more times on camera throughout the process.
“That was just so shocking and so strange, that’s why we decided to put it in,” Kondelis said. “I felt like if I didn’t put that in there, then I’m just a mouthpiece for Dave’s propaganda. If I don’t show the audience this is what he’s actually saying, his body language changes, the inflection in his voice is different, this is really him. I think [former assistant coach and whistleblower Abar Rouse] said in an interview with somebody that they caught Dave being Dave.”
And why did Bliss talk, especially after most current and former Baylor officials, coaches and players refused to talk? First, Kondelis said, Bliss had a book coming out at the time of the interviews. Second, Bliss saw himself as the one who was wronged.
“He sees himself as a victim,” Kondelis said. “There’s some truth to what Dave says. Every coach cheats. That’s something that he told me many times. ‘I didn’t do anything differently than what any of these coaches do on a daily basis but for the coverup.’ Dave went way farther than anybody really has, and this became the biggest scandal in college basketball history. But Dave doesn’t take any responsibility for what happened. He still does not.”
In the documentary, many of those involved in the investigation of the murder and of the cover-up made clear they still do not believe justice has been fully served. This is despite Dotson’s confessing to the crime and going to jail while the NCAA put Bliss on a ten-year probation that prevented him from coaching in college. One problem is that nobody has been able to learn why Dotson committed the murder, or even if he acted alone or had help.
“There’s never been a motive,” Kondelis said. ‘There’s never even been a motive that was presented by the DA’s office for why he would do this. It doesn’t make any sense.”
One reason a motive was never presented was that there was never a trial. And, as heavily implied by the film, the reason there was no trial was that a plea agreement was approved by the court over the wishes of the district attorney.
Some subjects in the film say they believe Dotson's plea appeared to come about because of the sense that protecting Baylor was the prime concern of many of those involved. The most chagrined person was John Segrest, who was the McLennan County DA at the time, and who saw his chance to try Dotson stymied by a mysterious plea deal cooked up by Dotson’s attorneys and a judge — all Baylor grads.
“John [Segrest] goes on camera and says that Carlton’s two court-appointed Baylor attorneys come to him and say, ‘We don’t even want to get this to trial; let’s plead this because it’s making Baylor look bad.’ I was shocked,” Kondelis said. “I couldn’t believe that he was willing to say that on camera. It’s unbelievable. There’s a suggestion there without a doubt that Dotson’s attorneys had no interest in providing a defense for him — their only interest was saving face for Baylor, their alma mater.”
This interest in saving face for Baylor extends beyond the Dotson plea agreement, of course. The current McLennan County DA is Abel Reyna, one of Dotson’s attorneys who brokered the plea agreement. Reyna has been the district attorney for the entire time of the sexual assault scandal that engulfed the Baylor football team and in which it has seemed that protecting Baylor’s public image has been more important than prosecuting the assaults.
Dave Bliss is back coaching college basketball. Carlton Dotson is still in jail. But no matter how much time passes, no matter how the crimes change, it still appears to many the business of Waco is protecting Baylor.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.