It was a public admission of guilt, an expression of sorrow by the three UCLA basketball players. In their statements, Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill sounded contrite, apologetic and genuine. The three freshmen sat with obvious shame, and their facial expressions ranged from sour faces to looks of terror.
The players were detained in Hangzhou on suspicion of shoplifting from three stores near the team’s hotel. The stolen items were found after police searched bags in the team bus and hotel. They were then identified and taken into custody last week before UCLA’s season opener in Shanghai.
The three Bruins were seen at the airport in Shanghai boarding a flight back to Los Angeles after being confined to their Hangzhou luxury hotel for nearly a week. After arriving at LAX, the players were bombarded with questions by a gauntlet of paparazzi and reporters while being escorted to a van at the Tom Bradley terminal.
At least the players admitted to the crime and apologized for their actions. The heartfelt apology came on the heels of a prepared statement the three wrote to read at a news conference, holding themselves accountable by acknowledging their wrongdoings and thanking Donald Trump for intervening on their behalf in the shoplifting case. It was a good start. But by suspending the three freshman basketball players indefinitely it was indeed only the start.
Give the kids at least some credit for owning up to their mistakes, and let them learn from their lapse in judgement. Representing a nationally recognized school, they embarrassed the university, the athletic program and their families as well. It was just plainly stupid of them to steal sunglasses from China, but they can certainly move on and make smarter choices. Far from a shoplifting incident, the international scandal is clearly leaving a lasting stain on the school.
This doesn’t sit well with UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford and clearly it bothers athletic director Dan Guerrero. The writing was on the wall that the three would soon be disciplined by the school once they arrived back to the states and confessed to stealing in China and that’s exactly what happened. So the question becomes, if, and how long will they sit out before they are reinstated?
It seems highly plausible that the trio can be sentenced to a year —if not harsher — the death penalty. The school came down on them. The three players are not allowed to suit up, practice or travel with the team. Some believe they should be expelled from the school, while others believe they are deserving of a second chance. The ambiguity of the term “indefinite” is what leaves us guessing whether the three players will be suspended for only a week? Sit out for a month? Miss the rest of the season? Or will the school dismiss all three from the team?
They should be suspended for the rest of the season, and earn their way back. The athletic department and the university will continue to review the matter before determining the length of the suspension, if not a tougher punishment. This case should have already been closed. In hindsight, the “indefinite” suspension does not fit the severity of the crime. The three college kids subsequently committed serious thefts, yet the school is doing its due diligence to see if the players merit a season-long suspension.
No one knows what the consequences will be for the three entangled in a theft case. If they can’t accept the consequences of their own stupidity, or feel as if they are treated unfairly, the only way they can win back fans, rebuild trust and get back on the floor is by repairing their reputations, as everyone waits to see how the process plays out.
“These three young men will remain suspended indefinitely from our program as we work through the review process with the university’s office of student conduct,’’ said Alford, reading from a statement. “During that indefinite suspension, they will not travel with the team, nor will they suit up for home games. At some point, they may be permitted to join team workouts, practice and meetings, but that timeline is yet to be determined.’’
If the players are suspended for the rest of the season, perhaps the Bruins administrators will have made the correct call. Even if the kids had returned to California and Chinese authorities withdrew the charges against the three players, Ball, Hill and Riley should be forced to sit for the rest of the non-conference schedule. The school has a very clear vision of a decision that will result in a lengthy suspension, when the administration failed to act promptly and emphatically. But the moment the school decides what to do hopefully not being able to participate teaches the players a valuable life lesson. Expect UCLA, a school that sets the highest ethical standards, to levy a harsh suspension.
“These young men are going to have to prove, through their words and actions, that this is not who they are, and that they will not let their identity be defined by this incident,” Alford said.
Guerrero said the shoplifting occurred during the Bruins’ first full day in China. The players were given free time, 90 minutes to basically tour the city and do whatever they wanted. Ball, Hill and Riley were given too much leisure time, weren’t on their best behavior and didn’t act responsibly.
Before the players traveled to China for what was supposed to be a trip for the student-athletes to experience another part of the world, Alford reminded his kids to represent the university appropriately.
This is an institutional problem, but because Ball, Hill and Riley are three freshmen generating revenue at UCLA, they get a pass —at least for now. During a 20-minute press conference held to make an announcement about the status of three players, Alford and Guerrero each read from a prepared statement and took no questions. It appears there are still dragging questions that have not been answered.