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Who’s to blame for Sam Ukwuachu?

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Sam Ukwuachu, one-time All-American who transferred to play football at Baylor University, on the stand during his trial accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student athlete in 2013, August 20, 2015 (Credit: AP Images/Waco Tribune-Herald/Jerry Larson)

As we get closer to the start of the College Football season, Baylor University has been in the news quite a bit. While that’s perhaps to be expected for the team that has won at least a share of the Big-12 Title the past two seasons, the most recent stories have been for a far more serious and troubling reason. Sam Ukwuachu, a former DE, was sentenced last Friday to 180 days in jail and 10 years’ probation for the 2013 sexual assault of a former Baylor soccer player.

Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor from Boise State in 2013 but never actually played a game for the Bears as the assault took place before he was declared eligible. Prior to that, he was kicked off the Boise State team after coaches and school officials were made aware of an altercation with his then-girlfriend where he was accused of hitting her repeatedly during a fight while drunk. While emails that have since been released show that then head coach Chris Petersen and others knew about Ukwuachu’s intoxicated state and verbal abuse, they do not necessarily show an awareness of any physical altercation and no police report was officially filed.

While it seems unlikely the coaching staff and other officials did not know about the violence that ensued, it could explain why nothing was noted on his transcripts and why the Boise State Dean of Students, Christian Wuthrich, told Baylor that they had “no student conduct records for Samuel and he is in good standing with Boise State.” The official transfer documentation further corroborated that belief as the Boise State compliance office signed that Ukwuachu had been neither suspended nor disqualified from the institution and would have been welcome to return to the university if he chose.

Baylor head coach Art Briles has since released a statement saying “I was contacted by Coach Petersen at Boise State in spring 2013 and he told me he had a player from Texas who needed to get closer to home and that he thought our program would be a good spot for him…In our discussion, he did not disclose that there had been violence toward women, but he did tell me of a rocky relationship with his girlfriend which contributed to his depression. The only disciplinary action I was aware of were team-related issues…As required with any transfer to Baylor, Boise State acknowledged that he was not suspended due to any institutional disciplinary reasons and further that he was eligible for competition if he chose to return to Boise State.”   

For his part, Petersen has said “I initiated a call with coach Art Briles. In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.” Since then, much of the debate has revolved around issues of semantics such as what “thoroughly” means and how much Petersen actually knew about the previous violation.

Ultimately, what matters most is that Ukwuachu is going to prison (albeit on what seems like a very short sentence for a convicted rapist). Yet there are still many questions that need to be answered. For starters, even if Baylor did not know about Ukwuachu’s history of violence towards women, the details of the school’s investigation into the latest assault make it seem as though they were more interested in fulfilling their minimum legal obligation than finding the truth of what actually happened. To that end, University President Ken Starr has vowed that an investigation will be done to discern what happened with Baylor’s investigation and if further action is necessary.

In the end, whether it’s because of willful ignorance or intentional deceit, the coaches and school administrators at both universities could have done more to help prevent this tragedy. And chances are that someone will take the fall for a situation in which they all hold some measure of culpability. But as Grantland’s Charles P. Pierce notes, assigning such blame “has been human instinct for as long as there have been human beings who are subordinate to other human beings. We all do it by scapegoating ‘society’ in general for problems in which we are complicit. If everybody is guilty, then nobody is.”

He’s right. That’s been humanity’s story since Adam tried to blame Eve and Eve tried to blame the serpent. It’s the idea that as long as there’s someone who is more culpable than us, it’s not really our fault. It doesn’t actually remove our guilt but rather simply makes it easier to deal with. And, lest we think it a minor issue because it’s so common, there is little in this life that can drive us further from God than an unwillingness to accept responsibility for our mistakes.

That’s why Jesus began his ministry with a call to repentance (Matthew 4:17). It’s why repentance is irrevocably linked with eternal life throughout the scriptures (Acts 3:19). And it’s why Satan has been so successful using blame to destroy the unity of God’s people (pretty much the whole story of the Israelites in the wilderness).

The sad thing is that there are few sins in our lives that are simpler to rectify. That’s not to say that doing so is easy or comfortable, and in fact it will often be quite the opposite. However, God’s word promises that when we repent of our sins, the Lord is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And as David adds, when that happens God will remove our guilt “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). But none of that can happen until we own up to our sins and take them before our heavenly Father.

So the next time you’re tempted to look for someone else to take responsibility for your mistake, take it instead to God and humbly ask his forgiveness. It may hurt for the moment, but there is great freedom and peace to be found at the heart of his mercy. Have you experienced it yet today?