Why let ethics get in the way of football?
At LSU, credible accusations of Title IX violations are apparently no reason to fire a head football coach. But if his record slips, well, that’s another story entirely.
In August 2020, Head Football Coach Ed Orgeron was still riding the high of his national championship victory a few months prior.
That month, USA TODAY broke a story about a woman who said her then-boyfriend told Orgeron about famed running back Derrius Guice raping her. According to the story, Orgeron did not report the rape and told the boyfriend not to worry because “everybody's girlfriend sleeps with other people.”
Not only does Orgeron's callous reply reflect a disturbingly flippant attitude towards sexual assault, it suggests that Orgeron violated university policy by failing to report this claim.
The university constantly proclaims that student safety is its No. 1 priority. At a university where that’s true, administrators would have suspended Orgeron from coaching until a thorough investigation could determine the next steps. At a university where character in leadership matters more than football revenue, administrators would have been horrified to read this woman’s testimony.
But LSU’s inaction suggests it isn’t a place where those things are true.
Orgeron issued a public statement saying he did not know about the rape, and, as easy as that, the university turned away from accusations that one of its most powerful and visible men had failed a student so horribly. A new lawsuit names Orgeron as a defendant, citing his handling of this incident.
Three months later, USA TODAY published a startling in-depth investigation into years of Title IX mishandlings by the university. Pressure mounted, and the university commissioned an independent investigation by law firm Husch Blackwell.
That report included an additional allegation that Orgeron had mishandled a 2017 sexual harassment claim against Guice by a then 70-year-old Superdome security worker.
The woman, who later publicly identified herself as Gloria Scott, said she spoke to Orgeron and asked Guice not be allowed to play in the Citrus Bowl that year. Scott says Orgeron offered to have Guice apologize to her but refused to withhold him from playing. Husch Blackwell says the Title IX office did not receive a report until Scott called herself, a clear failure on the part of Orgeron and others in athletics who knew about the situation.
When Scott testified at the Louisiana Capitol about her experience, she said Orgeron lied when he told Husch Blackwell investigators he had never spoken to her. But again, even after this troubling claim that Orgeron had ignored sexual misconduct from his player, the university did nothing.
None of these accusations mattered to the administration because Orgeron was a star football coach. There was never a moment when Orgeron’s job was publicly in jeopardy due to off-the-field negligence.
But then the 2020 season didn’t go as well as fans had hoped, and neither did the start of the 2021 season.
Whispers slowly grew that Orgeron would soon be out, and, in mid-October, those rumors were confirmed. Orgeron and the university agreed to a $17 million buyout.
The fact that Orgeron could walk away from LSU millions of dollars richer, facing no consequences or institutional scrutiny for the serious claims brought against him, is deeply concerning.
The university’s apathy to allegations against Orgeron bears striking similarity to the handling of claims against former head coach Les Miles, who, after years of horrifying sexual misconduct complaints against him, only parted ways with the university after a poor football season.
The university’s priorities are tragically clear: football and money come before all else.
The same administrators who express disgust and outrage over past Title IX failures have done nothing to address the credible allegations against Orgeron. If the university was serious about change, Orgeron would have been fired with cause—or, at the very least, suspended for an investigation—before his coaching career even had the chance to fizzle out.
While important systemic changes have been made since Husch Blackwell released their report, the university still lacks the culture of accountability that is essential for true progress. The university covered up claims against Miles and, several years later, didn't care that Orgeron did the same for his players, even amidst a widely publicized reckoning of the university's Title IX failings.
What will the next coach get away with?
Claire Sullivan is a 19-year-old coastal environmental science sophomore from Southbury, CT.