After creating an international incident that led President Trump to intervene with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the three teenage UCLA basketball players who shoplifted designer goods in China said Wednesday that they're really, really sorry. No doubt.
Surely LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, all freshmen Bruins, have spent the last week marinating in remorse as they've been holed up in a Hangzhou hotel, facing potential prison time for stealing from three luxury stores, while their teammates played an exhibition game and traveled home.
Trump tweeted that the trio faced 10 years in lockup for their crimes before he interceded on their behalf with Xi. Although Trump is not a reliable source, it's safe to say the young men faced serious legal repercussions, not to mention the shame and embarrassment of becoming the latest Ugly Americans overseas. Ryan Lochte has passed the mantle.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said that the players were suspended indefinitely from the basketball program while the school consults with the office of student conduct on the appropriate penalty. Coach Steve Alford, who called the trio "good young men who exercised an inexcusable lapse of judgment," said they would have to "earn their way back" onto the team.
Ball, Riley and Hill may be good young men and they may be sincerely sorry for their behavior, but UCLA cannot be too quick to forgive and forget. The players should be suspended from the team for the season, at a minimum.
Why? Because UCLA needs to send an unequivocal message to the athletes and the campus as a whole that violating the law while representing the university will not be tolerated — no matter how celebrated the individual involved. It's worth noting that Alford said he spoke with the players before their departure and after their arrival about the expectations and responsibilities of representing UCLA when traveling.
Granted, the Athletic Department hasn't been immune to scandals of its own making. And while the university is sanctioning these teenagers, it's making millions of dollars off of their young teammates and the scholarship athletes in other high-profile college sports. Yet the expectations for everyone on campus need to be the same, and these three clearly did not meet them.
It's possible that benching these young men for the season might cause them to transfer, and it might prompt LaMelo Ball, the youngest brother of Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball, to choose another school. LaMelo, currently a high school junior, has committed to UCLA.
But such considerations are irrelevant. Going easy on Ball and his cohorts for breaking the law while representing the school in a foreign country would send the wrong message far and wide about UCLA's priorities and its standards.