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Baylor's new head coach said something smart about preventing sexual assault

Words are just words, but Matt Rhule makes an important point.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Temple
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, last year at Temple.
Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It’s now been a year since Baylor got back the findings of a law firm’s investigation into BU’s Title IX compliance and allegations of sexual violence by its football players. That report led to the firings of head football coach Art Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw, and university president Ken Starr.

On the anniversary of that report’s release, ESPN’s Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach published an interesting story, titled, “What lessons has Baylor learned?”

Matt Rhule, the Bears’ new head coach, had this to say:

"I think one thing I'll say -- and I feel very passionately about this -- is so often football coaches say, 'Of course, I'm against rape. I have two young girls.' To me, it's not just the fact that I have girls in my life is why I don't believe in rape. When you communicate like that with football players or any young people, they begin, in my mind, to differentiate between women they know and love and women who they don't know, and then they don't place any value on them."

Rhule’s words point to something important. “I have daughters” is a stock response among many football coaches when they speak of sexual violence. It’s also a weak response. A coach shouldn’t need to have daughters or a sister to recognize that sexual assault is bad. That is not anyone’s intended point, but it’s critical to value good treatment of every woman — not just those a coach loves.

This sort of rationalization happens in fields other than football. It came up during the election last year, when Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz briefly pulled his endorsement of Donald Trump after a tape surfaced of Trump bragging about routine sexual assault. Chaffetz said he couldn’t support Trump because he couldn’t do it while looking his teenage daughter in the eye, and he was panned for it. Vox’s Yochi Dreazen:

Anyone with a basic sense of decency ought to be horrified by Trump’s casual talk of groping women, not just fathers of girls. Implying others should somehow feel less disgusted is a troubling message to send — and an even more troubling thing to believe.

At Bustle, Margaret Judson cited these comments by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof:

There's been a lot of talk about how this is offensive to women. Well, of course it's offensive to women; it's offensive to men too! We are the sons of women, we are the husbands of women, we are the fathers of women and girls and these kind of comments and this kind of behavior is an affront to not just half the population, but to all the population.

“The defense surely comes from a good place,” Judson wrote, but “still perpetuates the idea that women are ‘other’ than and need special protection from men.”

There’s this quote from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

People are important even if they aren’t related to people in powerful jobs. That’s a point men miss sometimes, and it’s a good thing that Rhule’s making it.

However, words only mean something if they precede action. Baylor is still embroiled in legal fights over its handling of sexual assault allegations and others against its players. This mindset is the right one, but the school still has a long way to go.