She was a freshman at Baylor University with a promising career on the women’s soccer team. During homecoming weekend, in 2013, she agreed to go out with another promising athlete, a football player named Sam Ukwuachu. But he didn’t drive her to a party or to get a bite to eat as he had said; instead, he drove her to his apartment and raped her. She went to the hospital and later reported the crime to police. After a perfunctory investigation, the university opted not to discipline Ukwuachu. The Waco Police Department took months to bring the case to the McLennan County district attorney’s office, which finally pursued felony charges. This past August—nearly two years after the attack—Ukwuachu stood trial for second-degree sexual assault. He was still listed on the team’s roster at the time.
When writer-at-large Dan Solomon and freelancer Jessica Luther reported these alarming facts in an investigative story titled “Silence at Baylor,” which was published on August 20, they ignited a national firestorm. Solomon and Luther explored what Baylor knew about Ukwuachu’s troubled past at Boise State, where he had transferred from, and what potential threat he presented on campus in Waco. As the case unfolded—within days, Ukwuachu was convicted and sentenced to 180 days in county jail—every major news organization in the country, from ESPN to the New York Times, began to ask the same questions.
Many outlets chose to first focus on the university and its football program. In an editorial published by the Waco Tribune-Herald on August 25, the newspaper seemed more concerned about circling the wagons, writing that “Rushing to judgment and throwing a rope over a tree limb is an American vice.”
Here’s one thing that editorial didn’t do: spend any serious time talking about the victim’s long and lonely path to justice. Despite bravely going to the authorities and pushing forward with her case, she ended up losing part of her athletic scholarship before eventually transferring to another university; Ukwuachu, meanwhile, was completing his undergraduate degree and preparing to start graduate school.
There’s no doubt that Solomon and Luther’s story gained attention because it involved a top-ranked football team. But the deeper, more-important discussion going forward should center on campus sexual assault. How can administrations ensure that their campuses are as safe as possible? How can they raise awareness about prevention? And how can they ensure that justice moves quickly when a crime is committed? Those are questions we should all be asking, because they are the ones that some universities appear to have overlooked.