On Thursday night, the jury in McLennan County determined that Sam Ukwuachu, a highly anticipated transfer to Baylor’s football program, was guilty of second-degree sexual assault. On Friday, after a day of deliberation and testimony, Ukwuachu was sentenced to ten years of felony probation, along with 180 days in county jail and 400 hours of community service.
The sentencing phase of the trial began immediately after the jury’s finding was announced so witnesses who had traveled from Idaho could return home quickly. On Friday, the victim’s mother testified for the state, and the defense called Baylor’s athletics chaplain, Ukwuachu’s parents, and the player’s former roommate Peni Tagive as character witnesses. Ukwuachu faced up to twenty years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
But this story is about more than a football player and sexual assault. It’s about the systematic failure to thoroughly investigate the allegations and a culture of sexual assault that extends to universities around the country. Questions persist about Baylor’s response to the charges, as well as the football program’s decision to bring Ukwuachu to the school in the first place.
Speaking to ESPN Friday morning, head coach Art Briles denied that he knew anything about the circumstances of Ukwuachu’s dismissal from the football team at Boise State, explaining that Chris Petersen, who was the Boise State head coach when Ukwuachu was on the team, made “no mention of anything beyond Sam being depressed and needing to come home.” (It’s unclear if Briles asked the Boise State coach about circulated reports that the player had been kicked off the team prior to his coming to Baylor.) That flies directly in the face of statements that Petersen, now the head coach at Washington, gave to another ESPN outlet later that day. “After Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from the Boise State football program and expressed an interest in transferring to Baylor, I initiated a call with coach Art Briles,” Petersen said. “In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”
The questions about what Baylor knew and when will likely linger—especially as Briles and Petersen offer contradicting statements. For now, though, the uncertainty surrounding what Ukwuachu did and his legal consequences has been resolved.