On Friday Nov. 10, the UCLA men’s basketball team faced Georgia Tech in Shanghai China for the Pac 12’s annual overseas matchup. Three days before the highly-anticipated sporting event took place, UCLA freshmen standouts LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were arrested and jailed for stealing a pair of sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store near the team’s hotel. Though the players were released on bail the day after their arrest, they were unable to return to the United States with their teammates on Saturday, Nov. 11 because their case had not yet been resolved.
While the UCLA players were being detained in China, President Trump was on a 12- day trip to Asia. He came face to face with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov. 12 during an economic summit meeting in Vietnam. Shortly thereafter, President Trump told the press that he raised the issue of the UCLA basketball players during the meeting and had intervened on their behalf. Though the players admitted to breaking the law, the charges against them were ultimately dropped, and they returned to the United States on Nov. 13.
The following day, UCLA held a press conference during which Ball, Riley and Hill acknowledged their mistake and apologized to their families, friends, college community and the United States for the embarrassment they caused. Additionally, the three players thanked President Trump for intervening on their behalf with President Xi Jinping. UCLA Head basketball coach Steve Alford announced that the players face “indefinite” suspensions from the team during which they are prohibited from practicing, traveling or dressing for games. The freshmen received no further punishments from the university or the Pac 12.
The “indefinite” suspensions that the UCLA players received upon returning home from China has been the source of media controversy. Some believe that since the charges against the freshmen were ultimately dropped, the UCLA basketball program is not obligated to punish the players and should thereby allow them to return to the team immediately. Others think that the international embarrassment that the players caused is enough of an offense to warrant expulsion from UCLA and a permanent ban from the Pac 12.
Hannah Knolls ’20 believes that “some players don’t fully realize that, when they are actively representing their team and make a mistake as big as these players did internationally, you aren’t only representing UCLA [and]… your family… but you’re representing the United States too.”
Kayla Jang ’18 added, “At Wellesley, we are always reminded that we are representing the school on team trips, so that is motivation for us to be on our best behavior. I cannot imagine what kind of consequences we would face within our athletic department if we committed such a crime.”
In addition to the controversy surrounding the suspensions of the UCLA players, Trump’s ongoing Twitter battle with LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo and the owner of the Big Baller Brand, has gained much media attention. The feud began when LaVar publicly stated that Trump’s meeting with the president of China did not play a role in his son’s release and argued that he did not owe the President of the United States a thank you.
Trump took to Twitter on Nov. 19 and wrote, “Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!”
Shreya Parjan ’21, a member of the novice crew team at Wellesley College, is particularly concerned with Trump’s Twitter comments surrounding the basketball scandal. “I think that Trump’s comments about leaving the players in jail was inappropriate and more about the president flexing his political power than trying to resolve the issue,” she explained.
Overall, this story has gained a significant amount of media attention throughout the last few weeks. Should the team have been in China in the first place? Did the media encourage the issue with incessant reporting? Is the punishment sufficient? Should LaVar apologize to Trump for his supposed role in his son’s release? Despite the mounting questions, the entire incident could have been prevented if the players had simply behaved appropriately while abroad. Students at Wellesley College believe that athletes should be held to a reasonable standard while they are competing in foreign countries, and that UCLA should expect more from Ball, Riley and Hill.