By Josef Gregory Mahoney When the UCLA basketball team visited China recently for an exhibition game, the team lodged in a luxury hotel adjacent to an upscale shopping mall. During their stay, three players went on a shoplifting spree, were detained, and found themselves front-page news globally. US President Donald Trump personally requested leniency for them while visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping, and as a common diplomatic courtesy, the players were released and allowed to return to Los Angeles. In a press conference hosted by the University, the players apologized for their “lapses of judgment” and thanked Trump for his support. One of the players, LiAngelo Ball, stated, “I’d like to start off by saying sorry for stealing from the stores in China…I didn’t exercise my best judgment and I was wrong for that. … I’m a young man, however, it’s not an excuse for making such a stupid decision.” In fact, Trump, looking to score additional political points from this imbroglio, had tweeted earlier that he wondered whether “the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump?”|
UCLA head coach Steve Alford gives his statement during a news conference at UCLA Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles.[Photo: AP/Jae C. Hong]It is easy for most people to sympathize with a “lapse of judgment” because most can admit to having suffered from them. However, few netizens seem to have sympathy for these players who, representing their country, their school, and inevitably—their race, as all three are African American men—forsook their responsibilities and committed crimes that in all likelihood would have resulted in much worse consequences if they had committed them in the US itself. Nevertheless, the US president, their school officials, and influential sportswriters have been far more lenient in terms of the punishments they have faced to-date.
There are at least three reasons the consequences would have been worse in the US. First, because there is little public toleration for athletes, who are perceived as already occupying privileged positions, who commit crimes, which in turn goads public prosecutors to set strong examples by prosecuting them fully. Second, because the crimes by these men including, according to reports, stealing expensive, luxury items, including a pair of sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton boutique, in other words, these were crimes that were committed without any mitigating purpose, like stealing necessities in the face of poverty, or to feed hungry children, and so on. And third, as most studies indicate, black men in America are most likely to bear the full weight of the law and then some in situations like these.