When Sean “Diddy” Combs attended UCLA football practices to watch his son Justin, the rap mogul seemed to operate in a world of his own.
While other parents parked in a designated lot, Combs and his entourage — often accompanied by bodyguards — pulled their black luxury automobiles onto the sidewalk between Spaulding Field and Pauley Pavilion. Families and media watched practice from a roped-off area. Meanwhile, Combs strolled the sidelines, part supportive father, part celebrity guest.
But under the early afternoon sun at Spaulding Field on Monday, Justin Combs was just another player struggling to finish his sprints on the first day of voluntary summer workouts.
The difficulty drew the ire of strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi.
The coach pointed out the little-used junior defensive back’s troubles loud enough for others to hear.
What followed is the subject of bitter dispute. The aftermath is about all that is clear: UCLA Police arrested Sean Combs on suspicion of three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, making criminal threats and battery after swinging a weight.
Two people knowledgeable about what occurred but not authorized to speak about it publicly described Alosi as “berating” and “demeaning” the son. Alosi also mentioned Justin Combs’ father, the sources said. That’s sensitive territory for Combs, who has complained that people dismiss his football ability because of his father’s fame.
In response to the verbal barrage, one of the sources said, Justin Combs shook his head. That didn’t go over well with Alosi. He told the player to get off the field, not just for the rest of the day but the rest of the summer.
Such hyped-up language is commonplace at the start of off-season workouts as coaches look for opportunities to demonstrate who is in charge. Usually, the differences are quickly worked out and normal life resumes. That didn’t happen.
Later that afternoon, the son came along as his father confronted Alosi in his office next to the 15,000-square foot weight room in the Acosta Athletic Complex’s basement.
Alosi was on the phone and motioned for the visitors to wait.
That’s where the versions of what occurred sharply diverge.
This much is certain: The phone call ended and the exchange quickly grew heated and profane.
That is in keeping with Alosi’s reputation for intensity. It’s led to previous trouble. Alosi’s nine-year career as a strength and conditioning coach in the NFL ended after a 2010 incident on the sideline for the New York Jets when he tripped an opposing player as he ran downfield. In 1999, Alosi was one of eight Hofstra University football players who broke into a dorm room and allegedly assaulted three students. Alosi pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of harassment, a misdemeanor.
Alosi, 38, hasn’t given an interview since UCLA hired him in 2012, but his drill sergeant mentality and impressive physique earned a grudging respect from players. The coach didn’t return repeated phone calls Tuesday.
Who instigated contact in the coach’s office isn’t clear.
One version of events depicted Alosi as defending himself against Combs throughout the encounter and as the victim of an attack that left his shirt torn.
But the person familiar with Combs’ perspective said that the coach demanded that the visitors leave, the dispute turned physical and then spilled out of the office. The commotion drew the attention of four or five unpaid interns who work in and around the weight room.
The person said that Combs, 45, felt surrounded and feared for his safety. So, he grabbed a kettlebell off a shelf where dozens of the ball-shaped weights with a ring on the end were stored a few steps from the office door. The lightest one weighs about 17 pounds. Combs swung the kettlebell — in self defense, the person said — but didn’t touch anyone.
A statement issued Tuesday on behalf of Combs asserted self-defense too.
“What we can say now is that any actions taken by Mr. Combs were solely defensive in nature to protect himself and his son,” the statement said.
A security camera in the weight room captured that part of the incident.
UCLA declined to release victim names or a detailed account of the incident Tuesday. Public agencies around the state routinely release such information under California law. But the university cited the ongoing investigation for withholding the information.
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said it hadn’t received any request from UCLA Police to file criminal charges.
On Instagram, Justin Combs posted a picture with his father Tuesday afternoon. They’re smiling.
“I thank God for having a father that’s always there for me,” the son wrote, “Love you pops!”
Times staff writers Zach Helfand and Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.