The Rice Marching Owl Band has been vilified in some circles over the halftime show it performed during Friday’s night football game against Baylor at Rice Stadium. Baylor fans were horrified and felt the show to be low class and in bad taste. There were still others who felt the MOB was mocking the sexual assault victims, especially those who may have been assaulted by now-former members of the Baylor football team.
But those Baylor fans who may have been offended definitely appear to have missed the point the MOB was trying to get across. Baylor acted on this issue only because it had to, only because the media spotlight had become too bright, driven by lawsuits filed against the school by victims and by several criminal convictions.
Yet despite this, Baylor fans still chose to give an ovation to former head coach Art Briles on Friday night. Briles had the decency to leave the game at halftime, but if they had their way, those Baylor fans would be okay with Briles still being the team’s head coach because, hey, what’s a little sexual assault when it comes to a winning football team? Also in attendance was Shawn Oakman. Oakman, who played a key role in Baylor’s defense last season, was thought to be a possible second-round draft choice for this past NFL draft, until it came out that he, too, possibly assaulted a woman — he has since been indicted for a second degree felony of sexual assault. Oakman sat in the stands with Baylor fans during the game, but afterwards, he was photographed on the Rice Stadium turf by Press photographer Jackson Gorman, who captured Oakman walking with Baylor personnel toward the Baylor locker room.
Baylor acknowledged yesterday that Oakman did go to the team’s locker room after the game, and he did speak to several players. Baylor’s interim head coach, Jim Grobe, professed ignorance of Oakman yesterday, stating he didn’t know who Oakman was. But Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, while declining to say what Oakman said, vouched for Oakman and said that Oakman’s “going through a tough time.”
So maybe Baylor fans were a bit offended by the MOB’s actions on Friday. But if anything, Oakman’s locker room appearance just stressed the importance of the MOB’s message because it sure as hell appears that Baylor just doesn’t get it. Former players popping into the locker room after a game is a pretty common occurrence. What should not be a common occurrence, however, is a player under indictment for sexual assault while attending a school with a football program living under an intense media microscope due to a string of sexual assaults from the football team, visiting the locker room of that team. Especially if Baylor’s supposedly making an effort to change a culture which allowed the sexual assaults to happen.
There’s nothing that Baylor can do to prevent Briles or Oakman from attending a Baylor football game. But if Baylor is really serious about fixing the problems that led to the dismissals of the football coach, the athletic director and the school president, and arrests and convictions of multiple players, then Baylor has to start making some changes. The Baylor personnel who allowed Oakman into the locker room should face some sort of punishment.
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The Rice administration issued an apology for the MOB’s performance to anyone who may have been offended. But its clear that it’s Baylor who needs to issue some apologies, not just to the MOB, but to the victims of Baylor players and to victims of sexual assault in general. Because it’s evident that Baylor just doesn’t get it, and it’s also evident that the players don’t, either. If Seth Russell really thinks that Oakman is having a hard time, he should consider the tough time that Oakman’s supposed victim is having.
And while we’re at, maybe someone should apologize to the Rice MOB. They performed a valuable service Friday night. They reminded all that Baylor still doesn’t get it what it did wrong.
UPDATE September 20, 5:24 a.m.: Baylor issued the following statement late Monday:
Baylor did not invite Sean Oakman onto the field or into the locker room. He made his way there after the game but did not address the team. As indicated earlier today, Coach Grobe did not recognize that Oakman was in the locker room area as Coach gave his post-game address. Oakman spoke personally with a few former teammates and left the stadium. Oakman is not permitted in Baylor-owned facilities nor in the locker room at future away games.