Over the last few weeks the news has been full of the story of the three UCLA freshmen basketball players who arrived in Hangzhon, China and spent their first free time to do some shoplifting at three upscale stores near their upgraded hotel.

If was, of course, dumb, stupid and embarrassing to the guilty wichins, to UCLA and to the United States.

They continued their stay at the team hotel until they were allowed to leave after the presidents of both countries agreed to let UCLA mete out the punishments and avoid a potential international incident.

China is not a soft or codling overseer.  They just announced three-year prison terms for anyone who discredits the flag or the National Anthem.

Appearing at a UCLA news conference on November 15th, each read a prepared statement of contrition and remorse, as UCLA announced an “indefinite suspension.”

Coach Steve Alford said they would have to earn their way back as players.  The exact terms of the suspension were apparently still being worked out with the school’s Office of Student Conduct.

The news conference ended without any questions from reporters.

The general fan and public reaction seems with little variance to be pretty tough; take away their scholarships, expel them or at least suspend them for one year.  Almost anything short of the firing squad!

The second opinion was voiced by Bill Plaschke, senior sports columnist and the L.A. Times editors, who said, “UCLA missed a chance to make bold statement with the three players.”  It was Plaschke who said, “It was a tepid announcement of punishment.  The Times editorial said, “UCLA cannot be too quick to forgive and forget.  The players should be suspended from the team for the season at a minimum.”

The Times editorial went on to say, “UCLA needs to send an unequivocal message to the athletes and the campus as a whole that violating the law while representing the university will not be tolerated.”

Now a third, somewhat nuanced opinion from Julie Wilhoit, a 30-year former college coach.

She said, “The job of a coach is to teach the fundamentals of a sport, instill a sense of team sport and sportsmanship and more than that it is to help students get an education and grow into mature, responsible citizens.”

“I think,” Wilhoit said, “the indefinite suspension was the right course of action.  The terms when finalized will probably include:

  1. Attend all classes and sit in the front row;
  2. Serve X days of community service;
  3. Visit a juvenile facility one or more times;
  4. Be a half-hour early for all practices;
  5. Be consummate team and cooperative players.

Our collective responsibility is to help re-educate these misguided young men and assist in their growth and maturation.

“Any misstep,” the coach said, “should be grounds for expulsion.”

This certainly sounds like a reasoned and appropriate approach.  It might have helped if they gave all the details of the suspension at the announcement.

There are, of course, some remaining questions:

  • Can the players attend games, even if they can’t sit on the bench?
  • Will one or more of the three opt out for another school?

None of the three were slated to be starters.  It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

1 Comment

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  1. I laughed so hard at the “firing squad” mention that I fell out of my chair until I thought “Oh my God, in some countries that may have been an option.”
    Coach Wilhoit has a well thought out, sound solution. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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