Two College Football Coaches and Two Rape Victims: Accountability / Forgiveness / Reconciliation v. A Mediation No-Show

By Donald L. Swanson

Here are two recent news articles on similar subjects and similar circumstances . . . but with dramatically different approaches and results.

  1.   The first is from Yahoo Sports, dated June 20, 2016, titled, Attorney: Art Briles was a no-show at mediation meeting with [rape] victim.
  1.   The second is from The Washington Post, dated three days later (June 23, 2016), titled, I hated this man more than my rapists”: Woman confronts football coach 18 years after alleged rape.

Each article describes the actions of a college football coach in dealing with rape allegations against his former players.

These two articles show two different approaches for dealing with human tragedy.

Let’s start with the article on accountability / forgiveness / reconciliation.

Back in 1998, four football players gang raped Brenda Tracy.  Two of them played on Coach Mike Riley’s college team.  Rape charges against Riley’s players were dropped, and each received a one-game suspension.  Mike Riley is quoted back then as saying the two players “are really good guys who made a bad choice.”

Because of such actions and words, Brenda says she “hated” Mike Riley “more than my rapists.”  She told a newspaper that Riley’s words had “scarred” her, that she “despised” him, and that she “hated him with every cell” in her body.

Since the ordeal, Brenda Tracy has become an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.

A third-party neutral intervenes 

In December 2014, Mike Riley leaves his college team and becomes head coach at another college team.

Around that time, a reporter asks Mike Riley about Brenda Tracy.

–Mike Riley asks the reporter if Brenda Tracy might be willing to talk to his team about rape and about “how things can change for everyone in a moment like that.”

–Brenda Tracey agrees to do so and travels to meet with Riley and his team.

The reporter in this context, it seems, fills the role of a third-party neutral in bringing Brenda Tracy and Mike Riley together in a mediation-type setting.

–Because of such intervention, these two people are able to meet face-to-face in a non-adversarial setting, where healing has a chance to happen.

The results

The Tracy/Riley article linked above is a must-read.  But here are some excerpts on what happened:

–“She took a deep breath and went inside to face the man she had hated for 18 years.  “Hi, Brenda,” Riley said with a smile.  “Then he hugged me . . . He allowed me to cry on his shoulder for a few minutes.”  The two talked for more than an hour.

–“I said everything I needed to say.  I asked everything I needed to ask. . . . He answered everything. . . . And he apologized” . . . Perhaps most important of all, Tracy believed him.

image
Riley and Tracy

–After their meeting, it was time for Tracy to talk to [Riley’s football] team.  She told the players about her six hellish hours in the apartment, about the pain, the humiliation, the death threats.  Every detail.  And when she told the players that she used to hate Riley “more than my rapists,” she could feel 150 faces turn from her to the coach and back again.

–“This is what accountability looks like,” she told the players. . . . This is what transparency looks like.  This is how we get things done.”

–“It’s OK to be accountable,” she told the team . . . “It’s OK to say you’re sorry.”

–Later, she would tell reporters that she was “very proud of coach Riley and his football team.”

–She snapped a photo with Riley.

Now for the contrasting article.   

Jasmin Hernandez was raped by a former college football player coached by Art Briles.  The player is convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape.

The college fires Briles over the matter.

Jasmin Hernandez sues three parties:  Briles, the college where he coached, and the college’s former athletic director.

Meanwhile, Briles and the college are in a dispute over his firing, and they reportedly reach a settlement agreement.  Around the time of this settlement, however, the following events occur, according to an attorney for Hernandez:

–A mediation session is scheduled to occur among Hernandez, Briles, the college, and the former athletic director.

–Briles “promised” to come to the mediation session “to support Jasmin … And help her, and to apologize to her and her family.”

–Hernandez was “cautiously optimistic” about this promise and was “definitely appreciative that [Briles] wanted to help and that he wanted to apologize.”

–However, Briles fails to show up for the mediation session, and the session ends without a deal.

The Hernandez attorney characterizes Briles’s failure to attend the mediation session this way:

–“[Briles] used the threat of helping Jasmin in her lawsuit against [the college] as leverage to negotiate his wrongful termination claim.”

–“[Briles] doesn’t care about victims. He never cared about victims. He’s using victims. He used them to help build up his football program, and now he’s using Jasmin to leverage more money out of” the college.

–Hernandez “was hurt. … She was upset and she was offended” by Briles’s mediation no-show.

Briles’s attorney does not offer an explanation for the mediation no-show, other than they “decided not to come.”

Conclusion

There is an obvious difference between these two circumstances:  one occurs in the context of an ongoing lawsuit, while the other does not.

But still . . . the contrasts in what happened are dramatic.

–One approach brings estranged parties together in a mediation-type setting, and remarkable healing occurs.

–The other approach fails: the parties do not meet, and the existing hurt and bitterness continue on and grow in intensity.

Surely, there are many lessons to be learned about mediation from these contrasting stories of pain and suffering and reconciliation and forgiveness  . . .

. . . and about how adversarial processes can impede reconciliation prospects.

 

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