LSU Football’s Indiscretions Highlight The Outsized Influence The Program Has On State Culture

What is going on in Baton Rouge?  Two deeply concerning issues have recently emerged at LSU that demonstrate the outsized influence of LSU football on the state’s culture and on minority residents. Despite hiring a new interim Vice President of Title IX and Civil Rights Jane Cassidy, the University is facing massive, systemic issues.

The most recent case involves the culture of covering up allegations of sexual assault by members of the football program (most notably, former head coach Les Miles and former player Derrius Guice). In response to a USA Today investigation, the university commissioned a 262 page report (released in March) from law firm Husch Blackwell, which has led to a cascading series of events, just in the last two months:

·     The University was sued for $50 million by former football associate athletics director Sharon Lewis for federal racketeering;

·     Departed President F. King Alexander resigned from his new job at Oregon State when they believed he had allegedly ignored complaints of sexual harassment and assault by the head football coach at his old job;

·     Departed head football coach, Les Miles, resigned from his new position at the University of Kansas after the school learned about his behaviors at his old school;

·     A 74 year old part time stadium security worker, Gloria Scott, herself a grandmother, testified at a Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children earlier in April about a 2017 incident involving sexual harassment by Derrius Guice, an LSU football player, who was previously accused of sexual misconduct three other times without any discipline from the school. Despite her complaints to head football coach Ed Orgeron and other LSU administrators, nothing happened. She also claimed Orgeron lied to LSU investigators;

·     At least 10 LSU administrators have been summoned to testify at the state hearings this month on the allegations against the university, staff and athletes as handled by the school; all were expected to be no-shows. Orgeron submitted a written statement;

·     A state representative has introduced House Bill 409, which updates the language in Louisiana’s sexual violence legislation to include “power-based abuse”.

There promises to be no end in sight. The institution is reeling; a student who testified at the hearing about the school’s inaction said “It still feels like the university is waiting for everything to go away,” Charlie Stephens, a sophomore in LSU’s mass communications school, said. While two athletics department senior officials were temporarily suspended without pay, legislators have expressed astonishment at the lack of action. “People have seen bad actors, and there were no consequences whatsoever,” said Sen. Beth Mizell, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, told ESPN.

A second, equally troubling trend in Louisiana has received far less attention in the last two years, but proportionately deserves due consideration. A research study conducted by two LSU business professors (titled “Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles”) examines whether an unexpected LSU football loss impacts a state court system’s judicial temperament and fairness.

The study examines whether judicial decisions handed down in Louisiana are unduly influenced by an unexpected loss by the football team. In this case, the researchers looked at judges who graduated from LSU and were employed in Louisiana courts. They wanted to know: if LSU football lost a game they were largely expected to win, did this outcome affect the sentencing of the juveniles who appeared in front of them? Did a judge’s emotional reaction to losing a college football game impact the lives of children in the legal system 48 hours after a Saturday game?

Professors Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan, the lead researchers who conducted this study, both work at LSU and are familiar with how invested the state of Louisiana is in its football team. They collected juvenile court decisions from 1996 to 2012 and “analyzed the effects of emotional shocks associated with unexpected outcomes of football games played by a prominent college team in the state.” They noted the alma maters of the judges as well as the kinds of juvenile cases and sentencing handed down in the week after a major upset of LSU’s football team, as compared to other weeks. The predicted outcome of the upcoming game was determined by the point spread as determined by Las Vegas bookmakers prior to the game.

Final analysis included 9,234 cases in front of 209 judges. In weeks where there was an expected outcome, the sentencing pronouncements were virtually unchanged from any other week. In weeks where LSU football lost unexpectedly, “the effects of these emotional shocks were asymmetrically borne by black defendants. The impact of upset losses on sentence lengths is larger for defendants if their cases are handled by judges who received their bachelor’s degrees from the university with which the football team is affiliated”.

In Louisiana, youth enter the juvenile justice system at any point up to and through age 17 if they are accused of a crime or arrested. If the case moves to adjudication, the case is assigned to a judge. During the period of this study, 88.5% of judges in the juvenile system are white; 62.5% of the juveniles are black.

Tying the reactions of the judges to the unexpected loss of an LSU football game, Eren and Mocan noted “the effects of these emotional shocks are asymmetrically borne by black defendants. The impact of upset losses on sentence lengths is larger for defendants if their cases are handled by judges who received their bachelor’s degrees from the university with which the football team is affiliated”.

This is extraordinary, and in light of the other deeply troubling issues at LSU, deserves deeper investigation by both judicial and state authorities. No college football program should wield the kind of power that invalidates the rights of women and minorities, and no institution should continue to ignore the obvious facts in front of them. LSU has two staggering reports to address in the days ahead, as well as a deeply troubling culture on and off campus. Who will hold them to account?

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