Two very despicable college football programs won bowl games Tuesday night, as Minnesota upset Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, and Baylor upset Boise State in the Cactus Bowl.
Minnesota's bowl win aside, the Gophers will be most remembered this offseason for their near-boycott of the game, as they protested their university for doing its federally-mandated duty of investigating a sexual assault claim. They claimed they wanted "due process" for their fellow players, despite a complete lack of understanding about the actual Title IX process. They stood behind teammates who passed a woman around as a sex object, including players who admitted they heard her resist. The coaches stood behind those players, too, despite the terrible findings in the Title IX report.
The Baylor program is coming off arguably the worst sexual assault scandal and cover-up in college sports history. Despite former coach Art Briles' documented failures, he continues to receive support from people on staff at Baylor. Even during the bowl game, an assistant wore a "#CAB" logo (for "Coach Art Briles") right in front of interim coach Jim Grobe. Grobe did nothing to stop it, even though the continued support for Briles undoubtedly hurts the many victims of Baylor players' assaults.
These are not programs that you want to see do well. In the case of Baylor, the entire coaching staff is still allowing support for a man who allowed sexual predators to roam a college campus. In the case of Minnesota, an entire team supported players found to have committed sexual violence.
However, people love to make sports about something bigger than what they are, so naturally, some sportswriters turned Minnesota and Baylor's wins into stories of redemption.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune described the Minnesota team as "resilient," as if the players nobly faced and overcame a difficult and unfair obstacle by standing behind those accused of sexual assault. The St. Paul Pioneer Press set up the narrative as the Gophers triumphing against the odds, and not the self-inflicted wound of a sexual assault scandal. The AP described the whole situation as anodyne "turmoil," as if there were two, equally-legitimate sides to the boycott.
The coverage of Baylor was just as bad. ESPN's Rece Davis set up a story about the Bears' redemption.
The Waco Tribune was worst of all, all but trying to sell the Disney-style movie rights to a plucky, inspirational season:
After enduring one of the most difficult seasons imaginable, Baylor could have easily mailed it in for the Cactus Bowl and ended the season with its seventh straight loss.
Instead the Bears played some of their most inspired, daring football of the season and beat a Boise State team that specializes in winning bowl games.
All of these stories about Minnesota and Baylor are nonsense. Their football wins do not in any way redeem the way many people in those programs have enabled rape culture on campus. At most, all we can say is, "man, it's too bad those people get to feel happy right now."
Teams already have PR departments to help them weave stories of overcoming adversity in cases where that kind of arc does not and should not apply. None of us in the media or the football-watching public should be complicit in helping them. Winning football games doesn't make up for sexual violence; it doesn't mean anything other than winning a game. And it sure as hell shouldn't be used to bookend some Hero's Journey in which Minnesota and Baylor overcome hardships encountered as a result of their own wrongdoing.