Thursday, February 25, 2016

Culture of denial. Apparently.

So, that sound you just heard?

Oh, it's nothing. Just the air going out of all the sanctimony coming from Knoxville, Tenn., these days.

It turned up on the national radar when Peyton Manning was mentioned in a Title IX lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee, alleging that a culture of neglect had sprung up around its athletic programs in regard to sexual assault. Tennessee could have done itself credit had it played its hand deftly thereafter, but so far it's only strengthened the case of the complainants with some remarkably ham-handed public relations work.

To wit: That disastrous dog-and-pony show the other day, when UT trotted out all its athletic coaches to "defend" the school's athletic programs.  What could have gone a long way toward making Tennessee athletics look like it gave a damn instead came off as if it indeed didn't take this issue seriously -- except in the sense of exonerating itself.

Save for a few rote platitudes, the coaches seemed more defiant than genuinely concerned with looking into the charges against their programs. It was an appalling display, particularly for the female coaches. And it only got worse when the complainants added to the suit the testimony of sophomore wide receiver Drae Bowles, who alleges that football coach Butch Jones told him he'd "betrayed the team" by trying to help a woman who said she'd been assaulted by two football players.

Suddenly all that sanctimonious whinging about the honor of UT athletics looked even more pathetic than it already was.

I don't know if Bowles is telling the truth, although I'm trying to think of a scenario in which he'd lie. Jones, of course, firmly denies the allegation. But if he's lying -- and let's face it, he has every reason to -- Tennessee's next move is obvious: The school needs to fire him.

If it doesn't, it looks again as if it doesn't take these matters seriously. And the lawsuit gains even more traction than Tennessee's fumbling around has already afforded it.

Does that mean there's a lack of commitment to protecting women at Tennessee? Maybe. Does it mean there's less commitment there than at, say, Florida State, where a young woman's allegations of sexual assault against the school's star quarterback, Jameis Winston, was treated with a wink and a nod by the police and prosecutor's office, and with going-through-the-motions nonchalance by the university itself?


The ugly truth is, money talks in big-time college athletics, especially in the money sports. So it's doubtful Tennessee is any more cavalier about allegations that might damage the bottom line than any other Big Five school is. Tennessee's just the school in the crosshairs right now.

I wish that didn't sound so cynical.

But then, I wish there was a reason it shouldn't. 

Update: Tennessee just keeps digging.

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