For the past 24 hours, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has used the death of Cal player Ted Agu as a way to advance his crusade to pass a rule that would limit offenses to waiting 10 seconds before snapping the ball on any given play.
Bielema has said he wants the rule instituted for player safety and then in a Sports Illustrated article on Friday, went on to claim Agu had sickle cell trait, which exacerbates heat exhaustion.
"The reason I brought up the Cal player is this: We all have sickle cell players. To me, it's the most scary individual thing we face. There are no signs. There are no indicators.
“What if you're in the middle of the third or fourth quarter and you know that the kid standing 15 yards away from you or on the other side of the field has this trait. He's got this built-in possibility of something happening. Your doctors have told you about it. Your trainers have told you about it. He looks at you through those eyes or maybe the trainer even says, "Hey coach, you need to get him out of there." And you can't. You have no timeouts. He's not going to fake an injury. He's not going to fall down"
Of course, Cal hasn’t mentioned anything about Agu and the sickle cell trait. It hasn’t publicly released the results of Agu’s autopsy. So, to say Bielema was speaking out of school to advance his own agenda would be correct and Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour did just that on Twitter.
Bret Bielema's comments about our Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive
— Sandy Barbour (@gobearsAD) February 21, 2014
Using the tragic loss of one of our student athletes as a platform to further a personal agenda in a public setting is beyond inappropriate — Sandy Barbour (@gobearsAD) February 21, 2014
It didn’t help matters that the family service for Agu was today. A day of mourning turned into a university defending itself against a rogue coach trying to advance his own misguided agenda.
Bielema, upon realizing that Barbour had taken him to task in the quickest and most public way she knew how, responded with a statement that was presented as an apology, yet never mentioned the word “apology” or any synonyms of the word.
"It was brought to my attention that remarks I made yesterday evening while discussing a proposed rule change were unintentionally hurtful. I am very passionate, as we all are, about the serious nature of protecting the well-being of student-athletes, and earlier today I was interviewed by SI.com writer Andy Staples to explain my stance on the proposed rule. In my press conference last night, I referenced information about the tragic loss of a life of a student-athlete. My comments were intended to bring awareness to player safety and instead they have caused unintended hurt. As a head coach who works with young individuals every day, the passing of Ted Agu is a reminder to us all how short and precious life is. I would like to extend my deepest condolences and sympathy to the Agu family, Coach Sonny Dykes and to the University of California family.”
There’s no undoing the damage Bielema has inflicted. In his interview with Sports Illustrated, he insinuated that Cal wasn’t diligent about its patrolling of Agu if, in fact, he had the sickle cell trait. And for what purpose? To try to mount a case for a rule that had little support in the first place?
He’s successfully managed to upset a school halfway across the country, no doubt upset his athletic director and sour a lot of Arkansas fans who were probably already put off by his dismal first season.
And all of this in less than 24 hours.
If Saban had wanted this substitution rule to pass, he should have picked a better spokesperson because right now, everyone who was in Bielema’s corner is likely looking for the closest exit.
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