Combating Off-Field Violence | Sojourners

Combating Off-Field Violence

Sexual assault casts a long shadow over athletics—even at Christian colleges.

I GREW UP dazzled by NBA champion Kobe Bryant taking over games and redefining precision—I could never look away when he was on the court. But the sexual assault accusations brought against him in 2003 are as much a part of Bryant’s legacy as the night he dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors.

Domestic violence and sexual assault cast a long shadow over athletics, as much in Christian colleges as in secular universities or professional sports. Christian colleges should be held to a higher standard, however, because they have a gospel mission to shape disciples and protect the vulnerable, not just trade in talent.

That’s why I was dismayed in November when Liberty University (“Training Champions for Christ since 1971”) hired Ian McCaw as its new athletic director. McCaw resigned from Baylor University last year after he was sanctioned and placed on probation for his role in a widespread sexual assault scandal. The investigation into McCaw’s negligence led an independent law firm to release “scathing findings” of an “overall perception that football was above the rules,” and a complete lack of a “culture of accountability for misconduct.”

Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s response? McCaw’s tenure at Baylor “fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going.”

Professional sports are notorious for an institutional failure to hold sports figures accountable and to believe, respect, and protect victims of physical and sexual violence by those same figures. The NFL famously prioritizes player talent over women’s safety and imposes punishment to offenders unevenly—an inconsistency that often has a racialized narrative.

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