|UCLA's Codey Riley, LiAngelo Ball & Jalen Hill|
Even though a display of artificial Christmas trees and wreaths greeted me at the entrance, like millions both here and around the globe, I'm looking forward to spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.
While carefully weaving my way through aisles filled with anxious shoppers pushing laden grocery carts filled with their Thanksgiving Day needs, my mind kept wandering to Codey Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill - the three UCLA basketball players who made global headlines a couple weeks ago after getting arrested for shoplifting in a Louis Vuitton store in the city of Hangzhou, China.
Now ironically, as the BBC reported the Bruins were overseas for their season opener against Georgia Tech as part of what's called the "Pac-12 Global Initiative, aiming to boost international recognition and the personal experience of players."
If you look at the PAC-12 Global Initiative webpage, the UCLA basketball team's recent trip to China was about a lot more than just a season opener.
|Members of UCLA & Georgia Tech's teams,|
coaches and cheerleaders in China
But thanks to the three aforementioned players, the trip has been branded by the actions of three people.
UCLA's recent visit certainly boosted "international recognition" and player's "personal experience",
but probably not quite in the way that the Pac-12 probably intended.
As a former Division I college athlete, and a young man of color who played football on a high-profile athletic team on a predominantly white campus, I watched and read the news reports over the past couple week with interest.
Partly because I certainly made errors in judgement that many college students make while trying to fit in, or appease others - or while just acting stupid or careless.
Believe me, I definitely did some things that wouldn't have looked good being reported as a lead story on ESPN's Sports Center - things I still think about and regret.
But I certainly never took advantage of, or hurt anyone - and definitely never even thought about stealing anything.
When the members of major Division I college sports teams (particularly football and basketball) travel to bowl games or special exhibition games, these are big high-profile events that usually involve some kind of network television coverage.
|College football National Championship games |
have become globally-televised spectacles
I can tell you that virtually every single minute of the player's time is choreographed according to a strict itinerary.
That's partially intentional to keep young guys out of trouble and focused on the game.
Between meals, travel to and from practices, studying film, publicity events, scheduled trips to places like theme parks, awards dinners - there's scarcely a moment that one is not under constant scrutiny from team coaches, administrators and the media.
The scope of the event follows you everywhere you go, even the lobby of the hotel where teams stay is a hangout for reporters, alumni and the members of player's families who are lucky enough to be able to afford to travel to see their son or daughter play - and of course, fans and curious strangers.
The only time you're not in the spotlight is when you're in your hotel room, and the little bit of free time you do get to explore the city you're in is a rare commodity that's limited by a curfew.
You are constantly reminded that as a player, you are a representative of the college or university and that your behavior reflects that.
|TV news graphics like this were replayed for days|
after the arrests were first reported
Part of me was pissed, part of me had sympathy for them, and part of me was genuinely confused.
What part of their brains was thinking that shoplifting sunglasses from an expensive store in a pricey downtown shopping district in China was a good idea?
Let's be honest here, the specter of race cannot be separated from this whole incident - in fact it helped drive the story.
These are three young African-American men in China, how could they not realize they wouldn't be under constant scrutiny no matter where they went given the authoritative nature of the Chinese state and a tightly-controlled culture that lacks the kind of racial diversity found in America?
While head coach Steve Alford announced that he was suspending all three players from the team indefinitely, their futures are very much up in the air - and that's an unfortunate thing to consider when you're talking about three college undergrads with their whole lives ahead of them.
What they did was an embarrassment to themselves, the UCLA students, faculty and alumni and the Bruins basketball team - Bruin'sNation.com even has a snap poll where members of the UCLA community can weigh in on what kind of penalty the players deserve.
But I guess I'm writing all this because even though I feel what they did was stupid and they must each face the consequences for it, my heart goes out to their families.
|When egos collide: Donald Trump v. LaVar Ball|
Friends, classmates, former teachers, members of your family and even total strangers know all kinds of things about what you're doing and how you're performing on and off the field.
That's why I kept thinking about those three UCLA players while I was shopping.
Amidst all the Thanksgiving rush last evening I kept wondering: What's Thanksgiving going to be like for those three players with the truth of what they did now a global story that hovers over each of them like a personal cloud?
When young men like that reach the Division I level in any sport, the members of the communities where they come from already know all about them and their athletic achievements - those same people will know all about their having been arrested for shoplifting in China too.
Especially since the whole affair has taken on a surreal circus-like reality-TV feel as, predictably, Donald Trump has used the situation to start yet another petty public spat with LiAngelo Ball's father LaVar - another textbook narcissist who views virtually anything that happens from the perspective of his own gargantuan ego.
LaVar Ball is the guy who claimed he could have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one on the basketball court back in August (Yeah, OK LaVar...), Jordan responded by saying Ball couldn't have beaten him if he (Jordan) was "one-legged."
Trump is still Tweeting about it two weeks after it happened like some maladjusted 15-year-old who just can't let go - check out Vann Newkirk's piece in The Atlantic Monthly, "Donald Trump's Eternal Feud With Blackness".
And so it goes, stupidity is cheap, shoplifting is still a crime, and a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering what three talented college basketball players with athletic scholarships that pay their college tuition were thinking trying to steal sunglasses from a store in China.
It's a question they (and their families) will be wrestling with over Thanksgiving and beyond as they try and heal the cuts from the other side of the sword.