The Right Place

by Tyler Sones


Weekends, we assemble at Dave’s house and drown compunction in Bacardi 151 and Percocet. We comb our hair and dress in clothes that allow us to pass—the brightly colored collared shirts that all the rich boys wear that year, khaki shorts, sandals or shoes without socks. Those of us who need to shave, shave. We look ridiculous. We smell ridiculous, too, spritzed in the cologne Chris swiped on a previous outing.

On a marker board on Dave’s fridge we keep a running tab of fraternity house addresses and the dates of their future parties, which houses check guests’ names against a list (and which of those abandon their guest lists a couple hours in), which ones throw only offsite parties, and which flout the rules forbidding the consumption of alcohol in the immediate vicinity of Baylor University. By spring semester, we no longer require the marker board.

Tonight, we pile into the back of Jeff’s truck and smoke our last cigarettes. Smoking makes you conspicuous at these parties. Cigars are permissible, but cigarettes make you look poor. This party is several miles from campus, a house by the river on the east side of LaSalle. LaSalle marks a kind of boundary, separating the wheat from the chaff. Mostly the boundary is economic. We pass clusters of trailer homes with windows covered in tinfoil, ramshackle houses with much of their property cluttering the front yards, giant trucks in the driveways. This is the eastside, white poverty.

I’ve never heard of a fraternity party thrown this far from campus. It’s amazing that these offsite parties even draw a crowd. I’m the only one of my friends who actually attends Baylor. Some go to the community college, some just work. I try to explain how much of freshman orientation is designed to instill a healthy fear of the surrounding town, so far removed from the kinds of suburbs most of the students were raised in. It only reinforces my friends’ contempt for the students, whose food they serve, lawns they mow, and cocktails they mix. Townies, I’m pretty sure, is a Yankee word, but it’s what we are.



When I visit my family these days, I don’t get any closer to Baylor than the Dancing Bear, a beer bar about a mile from campus, where, until recently, my only friend still living in Waco worked. During the summer, the bar is mostly empty. He pours me free pints and I tip him generously. The closest we get to the ways we were ten years ago is by reminiscing, laughing, and retelling our stories embroidered with a coherent ethic we definitely didn’t have back then. The past ten years have reformed us all, more or less. We still drink too much, but drugs are strictly for birthdays and pills are for pain.

I imagine Waco existing along loops. I can almost map them, swinging through small-town epochs, between ignominy and celebrity. The Davidian massacre twenty-four years ago and the bizarre intersection a couple years later of the highest U.S. per capita in both homicides and houses of worship. These are newspaper facts from my childhood. Back then, the football team, the Baylor Bears, endured losing seasons. Now the loop lassos bowl games for them and, for Waco, a successful shopping and dining complex built in the massive twin shadows of the grain silos on Webster Street My parents assure me that Waco has never been a better place to live than now, looping through its halcyon days.

I’m a pessimistic observer, and Waco’s recent spate of good fortune and flattering headlines makes my nose twitch.

My parents brandish magazine articles as evidence. Waco is among the most alluring destinations for rootless families. Raise your children here, the likelihood that they’ll be murdered has never been so low. And it might never be again

The house next door to my parents is featured on a popular remodeling/reality show, as are the homes of several people I grew up with. The hosts wear television smiles shot straight through with evangelical cheerfulness and the assurance that shabby craftsmanship looks fine on a screen. These are people—both the remodelers and those whose homes get remodeled—whom I remember from church, hands raised, tear-stained cheeks. Some of them I even witnessed overcome by the nonsense logorrhea inspired by the Holy Spirit. We call it speaking in tongues. It’s a treat to see them all thriving.

The Dancing Bear is an excuse to get out of my parents’ house for a few hours, read at the outdoor picnic tables with my earplugs in, and have a couple of beers alone. Sometimes I run into familiar strangers, we exchange some labored pleasantries, and they let me return to my book and my beer without the conversation ever breeching the surface.

I don’t remember why my parents get free tickets to Baylor football games, but they have as long as I can remember. Probably something to do with my mother’s job. She runs a Christian adoption agency. Before that, she ran a crisis pregnancy center. My parents are part of the evangelical community, and that includes football.

Mercifully, my parents are not sports fans. I was never forced to play sports or watch them, except on holidays when my uncles were around. My parents give their tickets away to friends. I’ve never once seen my father yell at a television. I appreciate this.

So, when I visit this time, in March, it’s not like we’ll bring up the item that’s been in the news, or not naturally. It seems like politics as much as sports, and we never talk politics either. This, I think, stems more from a family aversion to argument than anything else. We’re eating dinner at a steakhouse on the river. I’ve just had an essay selected for publication. It’s about my first, and only, year at Baylor. It’s about the drugs we did, the bad decisions we made. This nebulous we, which I definitely don’t know how to explain to my parents. I’m regretting having mentioned the essay at all. To redirect the conversation, I bring up the scandal.

“I saw that stuff in the newspaper. About Baylor.”

“It’s awful,” my mother says. My dad agrees.

“Like, what do y’all think?”

“I mean,” my mother says, “opinion is pretty divided. A lot of people really respect Art Briles.”

“Well,” I say, “if he covered up his players raping students, it doesn’t really matter if people respect him. They’re wrong.”

“Definitely,” my dad says.

“It’s just,” my mother says, “people are so quick to pass judgment.”

“Safer if you’re on the side of the victim, though.”

“Yeah, of course,” she says. “It’s just hard sometimes to know who the victim is.”

It’s not hard to know who the victim is, in fact. If I were to frame the argument in the right way, I’m sure my mother and father would essentially agree with me. Their hearts, I can hear myself saying, are in the right place. There’s a thickness, though, between evangelicals. They know I’m quick to throw stones at Christians, and they’re equally quick to defend what they see as good intentions. I’m hesitant to judge my parents. We’ve established a new détente over the last several years, which I’m not eager to break. We enforce our peace by avoiding topics we’re bound to disagree on—religion foremost. We project good intentions onto one another.

Nine months before, a Baylor defensive end was found guilty of sexual assault, sentenced to six months in jail, ten years of probation, and community service. It was discovered that he had been accused of similar crimes at his previous school. Instead of facing any scrutiny there, he was shuffled off to Baylor.

In the wake of his conviction, Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia law firm, to “conduct a thorough and independent external investigation into the university’s handling of cases of alleged sexual assault.”

Two months after that dinner with my parents, Art Briles, Baylor’s head football coach, is fired, and Kenneth Starr, the university president and chancellor, resigns.



The gable of a two-story house is draped with a Texas flag. There’s an inflatable pool in the front yard, a dozen blonde people crowded around a keg of beer. We park several houses down, in the driveway of a house under construction.

“God,” Dave says, “were those black people?”

“Football team,” says Chris. “That changes things.”

“No, man. Not at all. Watch the white folks try to put on a show. Might mean they hide the valuables, though. How do I look?”

He’s wearing pink and tan, and he smells like a used car salesman.

“Like your parents have money,” I say. “Like you’re saving yourself for marriage.”

“Except for butt stuff,” says Chris. “Jesus doesn’t care about butt stuff.”

In the front yard, two women from my theater appreciation class are dancing at one another, spinning their ponytails in circles above their heads. I doubt they’d recognize me, but I hide behind my friends anyway. Inside, the songs alternate without any appreciable pattern between country and hip hop, punctuated occasionally by some asinine singalong, like “Sweet Caroline.”

The living room is packed with people and we’re inconspicuous enough. The football players tower over everyone in the room. They’re all surrounded by drunk sycophants and easy to avoid.

Our routine is invariable. We split up immediately. Each previous weekend was a rehearsal for the next. I find the downstairs bathroom, which always has a line. I wait. I make small talk with the other people in line. My name is Chance or Jake or something. I’m pre-med. If we arrive early enough, which we do tonight, the bathroom line moves quickly. No one’s drunk enough yet to require more than a quick piss and a look at the mirror. I use the bathroom to kill time, to let us all blend in independently, but I’ve developed my private ritual. I run the faucet, piss, and crush an Adderall on the lid of the toilet tank. This I ingest nasally via a rolled-up dollar, or a cut segment of drinking straw if I’ve thought ahead. The Adderall lights a lamp in the Percocet fog. It’s like one hand playing piano, and, bang, suddenly there’s two. Sometime three.



My year at Baylor predated Kenneth Starr’s tenure as president. Remember him, Ken Starr? The special prosecutor in the Bill Clinton lawsuit. Whitewater. Monica Lewinsky. Kenneth Starr was the source of all that lurid information. The semen stain on the blue dress. The phallic cigar. He’s known for his prosecutorial zeal, with a couple exceptions noted by an entry at the bottom of his Wikipedia page, which recount his pleas for judicial mercy in the cases of Jeffery Epstein and Christopher Kloman, both of whom pled guilty to assaulting underage girls.

As a private Baptist university, Baylor is allowed a great deal of arbitrary leverage when dealing with student misconduct. In the past, the clause in the university charter prohibiting “homosexual acts” was enforced somewhat more vigorously than it is now. (The statute was amended in 2015.) It was understood that the ultimate judge of conduct, beyond God, was the Southern Baptist Convention and their interpretation of the divinely inspired words of the Bible.

During my year of attendance, a seminary student, Darrin Adams, was charged with misconduct for organizing a gay rights rally held in downtown Waco. He was offered two options: freely admit to violating the conduct code or stand trial before a jury of his peers and faculty. Evangelical peers can be cruel in Texas, especially when they’re being watched. Inquisitors in polo shirts. He chose to admit guilt. Misconduct at Baylor is a rather inclusive subheading, under which is contained drinking, gambling, premarital sex, homosexuality, cohabitation, and the possession or discharge of a deadly weapon upon university premises. Adams had organized the gay rights rally in protest, on behalf of his seminarian friend, Matt Bass, whose scholarship was revoked after faculty confronted him about his sexuality.

The dean of Baylor’s seminary at the time, Paul Powell, asked, “If a person, according to Scripture, which is our standard, is not part of the kingdom of God, how can they be in training to be a minister?”

I wondered about this, too. More why than how, though. Why would anyone choose to promulgate the doctrine of a denomination that condemned what they did in their bedrooms? Why would a gay man want to be trained as a Southern Baptist preacher? My questions didn’t stop me from being outraged, though. The administrators were selective in what they chose to denounce. There was a hierarchy of sin, and they chose to always rank homosexuality at the top.


Allegations against football players piled up quickly. After the inquiry by Pepper Hamilton, it came to light that Baylor had failed to respond to at least six women’s allegations of rape. Baylor chose to keep much of the inquiry’s results to themselves, but the public did learn that there were five players implicated. It didn’t end with the sexual assault charges. There were drug arrests, weapons arrests, and one case where a football player exposed himself to a massage therapist and tried to solicit sex. Still, Waco people defended the head football coach, Art Briles, architect of Baylor’s first winning seasons in years. Surely he couldn’t have known about everything his players did in their spare time.

Five players, six victims. That was the bottom line, the least horrible estimate. More liberal estimates are shocking. According to the New York Times, one lawyer alleged that his own investigations found that thirty-one players were responsible for fifty-two rapes over the course of four years. Several of Baylor’s regents told the Wall Street Journal that their records showed nineteen rapes committed by seventeen players in that same span of time. The term players, not men, is itself disturbing. As if rape were a game that these players—either five or thirty-one or nineteen of them—were preternaturally good at.

I watched people I grew up with defend Briles’s character on Facebook. As the charges accumulated, their defenses became more brittle. They asserted that he was a godly man. Indeed, he embodied the Texas ethic. Stoic, taciturn, churchgoing. If the Texas ethic can be summed up pithily, it might sound something like, “Don’t talk about it, just get it done.”

When Briles’s text messages were made public, they underscored his no-nonsense style. He used the phrase “bottom line” a lot, as an introductory clause. The words that immediately followed the clause comprised his expectations. Get this done. Take care of this.

Baylor claims that Briles was presented with a list of five of his players who were accused of gang raping a female student. Briles said to a fellow coach, “These are some bad dudes. Why was she around these guys?”

After the text messages surfaced, it became difficult for even his most stalwart supporters to claim character assassination. One Facebook post from May 27, written by one of my high school friends, sums up the sentiment among Briles’s defenders after his defense was no longer tenable:

“Art Briles – a man that I named my dog after. A man whose two biographies I own and have read numerous times. A man who prayed for my dads [sic] cancer with my wife while she was getting his book signed. It is an understatement to say he has had a strong impact on my life, both as a fan and as a person. The last few days have been difficult to process, as I try to understand and grapple with how I feel about coach Art. I realize he has made mistakes, errors in judgement and costly oversights during his time in Waco. I hope that he can learn and grow from this event in his life, God knows he’s had a hard life to begin with. My hope and prayer is that healing is brought into everyone’s life affected, and especially for the women who were mistreated and abused. I love Art Briles, he’s far from perfect just like all of us, and he needs prayer and support just like the rest of us do.”

It’s safe to say that the writer probably means well. His heart is in the right place. And after all, the heart can only be in one place at a time. In lieu of multiple hearts in all the right places, there are thoughts and there are prayers. Everybody means well.



Someone in the bathroom line explains to me that the party house had been jointly purchased by a couple fraternity brothers over the summer. This was one of the more egregious fraternities, plagued with accusations of misconduct, mostly drinking on campus, with a couple sexual misconduct violation thrown in for good measure. People had to get their stomachs pumped. Someone leaving one of their parties wandered into the wrong house, thinking it was home. They’d been warned. If they were to continue doing as they pleased, they had to do so off campus. I didn’t even ask how they could afford to purchase a house.

The trick, now, is to make my way discreetly upstairs. Early in the night, you aren’t likely to find anyone up there. After midnight, though, the rules no longer apply. Then you might find couples broken off from the party, making out in bathrooms, bedrooms, hall closets. We’d honed our techniques. Arrive and get to work after they’re drunk enough to let their guards down, between ten-thirty and eleven, and leave well before they’re drunk enough to drag each other upstairs.

It’s always the same upstairs. Tidy, stale-smelling, little rooms. A desk, a bed. The desk drawers are the first place to look. Once or twice I find a little cash, a couple twenties folded on top of pens and photos and notes I never think to read. If they have pills, they’re always in the desk drawers. A lot of Adderall, codeine. Tylenol 3 for injuries sustained playing intramural Frisbee or something.  Occasionally I find Xanax, which is welcome. Chris has found OxyContin and Demerol. One time he found morphine. Shit, one time Dave found a handgun. He didn’t know what to do with it, but he took it. As far as I know he still has it, wrapped in a shirt, sitting at the bottom of the closet in whatever house he lives in now.

I don’t make it upstairs tonight. I’m halfway across the living room when the partygoers swell, emptying a circle around the coffee table. They spill onto the staircase, sitting or leaning, blocking my way up.

My first impulse is to leave, wait by the truck until my friends can meet me. We’ve never been caught before. A few times, someone has discovered one of us in a bedroom. It’s easy enough then to play drunk, complain about the bathroom line downstairs. They just point us to the bathroom door and head back to their party. Real friendly bunch of folks. They never even think to be suspicious.

More people pour into the room, blocking me from both the staircase and the exit. Over their heads I see a huge white guy conducted through the crowd, right into the center of the circle. A couple people near him are chanting. The guy’s built like a suit of armor, obviously a football player. He removes his sunglasses from his forehead and lies down supine on the coffee table in the middle of the circle. The chanting grows louder and the man on the table claps his hands in the air to the rhythm of the chant.

The crowd parts. Two fraternity brothers escort a woman from the kitchen. She’s laughing but she’s reluctant. They pull her by her arms. They’re laughing too. The guy on the table claps faster and faster until the brothers hand him the woman. He pulls her body athwart his own, one hand on her sternum, the other against her groin. He proceeds to bench press her, rapidly, one lightning set of ten. She’s screaming, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s from terror or glee, or a combination of the two, like the way people scream on roller coasters. When he finishes his set, he kind of propels her through the air. She lands and tumbles into the rim of the crowd. Her face is red and she’s panting, but she’s still laughing.

At the top of the staircase, I see Chris shrugging at me. He points to the door and I nod. I’m shouldering my way through the crowd when the football player climbs up on the coffee table. He’s clapping again. It’s amazing the table can hold him.

He throws his head back and hollers, “Get me a fat girl.”

The laughter is uproarious. The chant expands to include his demand.

By the time I make it to the exit, they’ve caught their quarry. This woman is in actual tears. Her ponytail bobs across her face. She’s not laughing at all. I’m in the doorway, watching her being shoved into the air, flailing her limbs and begging the guy to stop. The crowd shouts the count in unison. Before they arrive at ten, Chris pushes me out the door.

“Where’s Dave and Jeff?”

“Dunno. Let’s go. Shit’s getting nasty in there.”

“Shouldn’t we do something?”

“About what?”

“That motherfucker was bench pressing fat girls.”

“Okay. What you wanna do about it?”

I have no idea. Jeff’s already in the truck, smoking a cigarette, but Dave’s nowhere to be seen.

“You get anything?” Chris asks me.

“Hell no. I didn’t even get upstairs.”

“I think I got everything worth getting.”

“Call Dave,” I said. “We gotta go.”

No sooner did Chris pull his phone out than Dave rounds the corner of the house, tottering under the weight of a giant flat screen television, cords trailing behind him.

We rush to help him. He’s panting and laughing, trying to explain.

“Man, like, everybody went into the front room and it was just me and the TV. Back door was wide open. I had to take it.”

We slide the TV into the bed of the truck, and Dave and I slide in behind it.

“You already have a TV.”

“Yep, but now they don’t. Fuck those people.”



Over the last year, new allegations keep surfacing, implicating more players, more coaching staff. The newspapers prefer to focus more on the perpetrators than the victims, but even if the reader doesn’t want to think about it, they understand that the number of victims has to climb alongside the number of rapists. I can’t tell whether the newspapers omit the victims’ accounts out of a sense of decency or cynicism. Surely they know that the mighty falling makes for good headlines. Nobody reads articles about raped girls they never heard of.

Art Briles files a lawsuit against the Baylor regents for wrongful termination and defamation of his prized possession, his character. They reach a settlement out of court, and the lawsuit never finds a courtroom.

The most confusing part about it all—my time there, all the things that happened after I left—is the peculiar brand of moralism these people insist on applying. It spends so much energy prosecuting lifestyles, but it spends even more—energy, time, paperwork, money— ignoring violent crimes with actual victims. Arguing against one person’s admittance into the kingdom of heaven, while giving another guy a severance package. It’s confusing, but it’s not surprising at all.


On the phone yesterday, I ask Chris if he remembers Dave stealing a television from a frat party.

“Oh, totally. But it wasn’t Dave. I think it was Brandon.”

We remind ourselves about all the stupid things we did back then. It’s nice to think that by robbing rich boys we were trying to undermine some construct, but we weren’t. We were poor and bored. We begrudged them their entitlement. I think we hated them more than what they did. The opposite of love the sinner, hate the sin.

I bring up the sexual assault scandal and how people are still defending Art Briles.

Chris assures me that all of it is explained by football. Or not all of it. But football is a workable substitute for all the other more complicated causes. The same kind of simple emotions. Winning is good. Losing is bad. Bad people lose. Good people win.

I ask him to explain.

“Same as the motherfuckers who voted for 45,” he tells me. “Most of them wouldn’t sit in the same room as somebody that said the word pussy. But they want to win. Imagine saying pussy to your mom. Who’d she vote for?”

“She didn’t vote.”

“Good for her, I guess. Imagine saying it to my mom.”

“I’d definitely rather die.”

“Guess who the fuck she voted for?”

“Not surprising.”

“Hell no, it’s not. The problem with this shit is that people want to win, more than anything else. They don’t give a shit.”

“What does it have to do with winning?”

“Everything,” Chris says. “These motherfuckers have been waiting forever for Jesus to come back. Where’s he? They think they’re being persecuted, trotted out before the lions, for having to think about things they don’t want to think about. They’re losing. Losing is bad. But they’re not bad. So why aren’t they winning?”

“Why aren’t they?” I ask.

“Because gay people exist, and trans people, and Muslims, and godly men do horrible shit. That stuff isn’t supposed to exist. They staked everything on being right.”

“So,” I say, “45 told them he was a winner and they were supposed to be winners, too. That they’d been right along. If they weren’t winning, it was because somebody was screwing them.”

“Yep. It’s some other motherfucker’s fault.”

“How’s that the same as football?”

“You remember that dude at Penn State, Paterno? Got fired because his assistant coach was raping little boys and he didn’t care enough to do anything about it. You should read the stuff people were saying about him, his defenders. They got bronze statues of that dude all around campus. People who never even met him said he was like a father to them. Dude won games. Same thing with Briles. He was the perfect father, even-tempered, firm handshake. He made people win.”

“And then he lost.”

“Yep,” Chris said. “And people are real fucked up about it.”

“But their hearts are in the right place.”

“That’s right. They always are.”

Tyler Sones is an MFA candidate at Ohio State University, where he serves as fiction editor for The Journal. His work has appeared in Washington Square Review and Barely South.