Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Showtime's documentary "Disgraced" brings back the Baylor basketball scandal

Almost 14 years ago, Baylor University found itself surrounded by scandal, as a basketball player was murdered by a former teammate. Showtime's documentary "Disgraced" brings that story back to life.

In the summer of 2003, I was interning at a Dallas-Fort Worth company for a management course credit.  Entering my senior year, it was about getting experience for the next phase of my career after leaving Baylor University with my diploma.  I had been there about a month when the news started to circulate about Patrick Dennehy, a basketball player who transferred from New Mexico, being missing.  

Baylorfans.com was the source of my information, and I think where most Baylor fans met online at the time.  Dennehy was a 6-foot-9 post player who played a few minutes at New Mexico during his freshman season before transferring to a higher level of competition.  He was supposed to join a team that went 14-14 the year before and just 5-11 in Big 12 play.  

Dave Bliss, the Bears 5th year coach had come to Waco to rebuild a program that had not seen much of any success in decades.  They last went to the NCAA tournament in 1988, but had not won a postseason game since 1950. Bliss was a 400 game winner, and a proven builder of programs. He had won at Oklahoma, SMU and New Mexico over his distinguished 28 year career.  

The Bears had talent though.  Forward Lawrence Roberts was a budding All-Big 12 player, while John Lucas and Kenny Taylor were building on strong sophomore seasons.  Their sophomore campaigns had not gone as well as they had hoped, but Dennehy was going to be part of the puzzle to solve that. 

However, in June, Dennehy was murdered by former Baylor teammate Carlton Dotson, who played in every game during the 2002-03 season averaging 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds. Dennehy, sitting out the season due to transferring to Baylor, would never play for the Bears.  

In the aftermath of the missing persons search, and then the murder investigation, the scandal involving Dave Bliss was fully uncovered.  The new Showtime Documentary "Disgraced" goes into detail about the events of the summer of 2003 and well-beyond, giving the viewer a look at the actions of Dave Bliss. 

Bliss positions himself as a victim here, one that happens to have a new book coming out. It is a sickening scene to watch, seeing how Bliss hides himself from the public.  You get a glimpse into who Dave Bliss actually is, and it is not pretty. 

After the NCAA and Baylor turned their attention to Dave Bliss and his program, the true nature of the man came out. Bliss tried to frame Dennehy as a drug dealer, the easiest way to explain how Dennehy was able to pay for a Tahoe and tuition.  As Bliss chillingly repeated many times throughout the Abar Rouse tapes, Dennehy wouldn't be able to argue or defend himself.  

Being able to hear the tapes that former assistant coach Abar Rouse recorded in secret of Dave Bliss ordering players and coaches to lie to cover up NCAA violations is eye-opening. 

A man promising to take care of someone child would use his murder as a way to frame the victim to clear his own name.  Director Pat Kondelis focused on the murder of Dennehy by Carlton Dotson, his best friend and former teammate, but also dives into the ensuing cover up by Dave Bliss. In one chilling scene, Bliss continues to repeat the allegations of Dennehy being a drug-dealer. Kondelis spoke with the Houston Press about this scene:

“That was just so shocking and so strange, that’s why we decided to put it in,” Kondelis said. “I felt like if I didn’t put that in there, then I’m just a mouthpiece for Dave’s propaganda. If I don’t show the audience this is what he’s actually saying, his body language changes, the inflection in his voice is different, this is really him. I think [former assistant coach and whistleblower Abar Rouse] said in an interview with somebody that they caught Dave being Dave.”

As I mentioned at the beginning, I was a student at this time, entering my senior year.  I knew Dotson, Dennehy and many of the players. I was not friends with them, nor maybe even acquaintances, but I knew them and had classes with them.  It was well known that many of the players smoked marijuana, but not once did I see anything related to dealing.  

The documentary also does an excellent job in framing the relationship between Dennehy and Dotson, one of a close friendship and roommate at first, then something else that is still unknown. 

Where the documentary takes a strange turn though, at least to me, is the framing of Baylor University as playing a major part in the conviction of Carlton Dotson. The director begs the question time and time again about what motive Dotson might have had.  The answer is right there for him, in that Dotson is insane. However, Kondelis instead frames the answer as something more complicated and probably involving Baylor.  

I wonder if it is a lazy attempt to tie in the 2003 scandal with the current sexual assault scandal at Baylor.  I wonder how much of the back-half of the documentary was shot and edited after the 2016 scandal came to light.  

As I have said many time, I still believe the sexual assault scandal is more about Baylor than about any one coach or program.  That is not a defense of the football program or a coach. Far from it.  The problems at Baylor are systemic and throughout the University.

However, the opposite is true of the basketball scandal.  This was about Dave Bliss and his program.  This was about his recruitment of players, a rampant drug use problem with the team, and the cover up of a terrible tragedy.  

Many will try and link the two, as calls by fans on twitter and to sports radio continue to yell and scream for Baylor to be kicked out of the Big 12, given the death penalty, or even taken apart brick by brick and thrown away never to be seen again. It is the reaction that the director seems to desire for his audience, and I found it to be the easy way out. 


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