At Liberty, an Old Question Raised: Can a Christian School Be Both Ethical and Athletic?

Jerry Falwell Jr., left, president of Liberty University, shakes hands with Liberty’s new athletic director Ian McCaw. (Courtesy of Liberty University)
Jerry Falwell Jr., left, president of Liberty University, shakes hands with Liberty’s new athletic director Ian McCaw. (Courtesy of Liberty University)

Ian McCaw will be the new athletic director at Liberty University, the prominent evangelical college in Virginia announced Monday — six months after McCaw left the same job at a different evangelical college in disgrace.

Liberty’s decision to hire McCaw raises an old question: Can a Christian school aim for big-time sports success without compromising its religious values?

McCaw was the athletic director at Baylor when the law firm Pepper Hamilton issued its damning report on the program he ran: that Baylor failed to respond to rapes reported by at least six female students from 2009 to 2016. Since 2011, a recent report said, 19 Baylor football players were accused of violence against women, including four instances of gang rape.

McCaw and football coach Art Briles, who along with Baylor president Kenneth Starr also left Baylor as a result of the scandal, knew about at least one allegation of gang rape yet did not report it to police, the university found.

But to read Liberty’s statement Monday, you wouldn’t know that McCaw resigned his former job in disgrace. “Those in Waco who knew McCaw’s Baylor track record were quick to endorse [Liberty’s] choice, even though they wished he had opted to stay at Baylor,” Liberty’s press office said in a glowing write-up.

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty and a major national evangelical figure, said in the same statement: “Ian’s success really speaks for itself. You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going. This is an exciting time for us.”

The statement mentioned Baylor’s five national championship teams, 58 Big 12 Conference titles including two in football, and six consecutive bowl games under McCaw’s 13-year leadership there.

But to some students, what went unmentioned was far more troubling.

“It seems like with this decision, we’ve put winning ahead of safety,” said Joel Schmieg, a 20-year-old junior from Florida who recently clashed with the school over an op-ed he wrote opposing Donald Trump, whom Falwell supported during his presidential campaign.

Schmieg wrote on his blog that when he was asked after that fracas whether he would still recommend Liberty to a potential student, he said he still would — 100 percent. On Monday, he wrote, he changed his mind.

He told The Post that he doesn’t see the Christian value of forgiveness as a reasonable explanation for hiring McCaw. “I’m a Christian. I’ve been given so much grace,” said Schmeig, who aspires to become a youth pastor. “There’s a difference between grace and putting someone in a position where they can do the things they’ve already done.”

No Liberty officials were available to speak to The Post on Tuesday, but Falwell told the News & Advance in Lynchburg, “I think [McCaw] was a good man in a place where bad things were going on and decided to remove himself from that atmosphere.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Julie Zauzmer

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