UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford apologized on Thursday for comments he made about a sexual assault case involving one of his players at Iowa in 2002.
“I wanted to believe he was innocent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course. This was inappropriate, insensitive and hurtful, especially to the young female victim involved, and I apologize for that,” Alford said in a written statement released Thursday morning.
The “he” Alford referred to was Pierre Pierce, a former standout guard at the University of Iowa. Alford repeatedly proclaimed Pierce innocent during an ongoing sexual assault case while he was the Hawkeyes’ head basketball coach – a gesture that was met with sharp backlash. A 2003 formal investigation by the University of Iowa found that Alford mishandled the case.
Alford’s apology came nine days too late for some UCLA fans, and 11 years too late for much of the University of Iowa community.
For many fans in both camps, it was also not enough.
The Iowa incident resurfaced shortly after UCLA hired Alford, when CBS Chicago writer Dan Bernstein wrote a column that was critical of Alford’s handling of Pierce’s sexual assault case.
Followers of both programs questioned why Alford didn’t issue the apology nine days earlier when he was first introduced at a UCLA press conference, during which a reporter asked about the Iowa case.
Many members of the Iowa community took to Twitter to express their frustration with the timing of the apology. They claimed it was too little, too late and called it insincere.
The fire was fueled by a another column from Bernstein, published Thursday, that criticized Alford for not addressing his involvement with the student organization Athletes in Action in the apology. The organization invited the victim in the case to a prayer meeting with Pierce to find an “informal resolution” to the case, according to the 2003 report by the University of Iowa.
The column also questioned Alford’s statement that the coach “came to (Pierce’s) defense before knowing all the facts,” noting that Alford continued to proclaim his player’s innocence after negotiations for a plea bargain began.
Iowa’s athletic department had no further comment on Alford’s apology than the same statement it has offered in the past – that it stands with the findings of the 2003 report that detailed the case.
The Daily Bruin asked more than 35 UCLA students about the apology on Thursday afternoon. Students were largely unaware of the apology, but reactions on social media websites ranged from apathy toward the situation to outrage that Alford had been hired in the first place.
Some members of the UCLA community said the move was wise on Alford’s part.
“I mean, he has to apologize,” said first-year business economics student Michael Masania. “He doesn’t really have a choice. It just further implicates him if he doesn’t atone for what he did.”
However, others contend that despite the negative criticisms, a rich basketball history will allow the program to roll with the punches.
“I don’t think this is really affecting us,” said fourth-year communication studies student Brett Lakey. “We’re still UCLA. We have a great history, we’ve got (John) Wooden always and all of the titles and stuff.”
In his written statement, Alford was apologetic for the effect his words had on the victim in the sexual assault case.
“I have learned and grown from that experience and now understand that such proclamations can contribute to an atmosphere in which similar crimes go unreported and victims are not taken seriously,” Alford said.
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero also issued a written statement Thursday morning in which he stood by Alford.
“Everyone has regrets in their past, but acknowledging them and learning from them shows true character,” Guerrero said in his statement.
Guerrero added that he was aware of the past controversy when he hired Alford and still saw him as “the right coach for UCLA.”