Josh Shaw, a hero for a matter of hours, is now known for a lie.
With the Trojans’ opener against Fresno State just days away, the USC senior football team captain Wednesday told school officials he fabricated a story about rescuing a nephew in a pool and lied about how he suffered ankle injuries, the school announced.
Shaw, a starting cornerback, was suspended from the team indefinitely.
“We are extremely disappointed in Josh,” USC Coach Steve Sarkisian said in a statement. “He let us all down. As I have said, nothing in his background led us to doubt him when he told us of his injuries, nor did anything after our initial vetting of his story.”
Athletic Director Pat Haden said he was disappointed and surprised because he had found Shaw to be “a very credible kid.” Haden was in the hospital because of a heart issue when he first heard of Shaw’s alleged rescue and injuries. He said USC officials vetted Shaw’s story 12 times with a number of different people.
“Right now, what we know is we have a kid that fabricated a story, period,” Haden said.
And USC publicized it.
The school did not include an explanation of what it now believes actually happened. In a statement released through his attorney, Donald Etra, Shaw acknowledged lying but did not provide any details.
“On Saturday, August 23, 2014, I injured myself in a fall,” the statement said. “I made up a story about this fall that was untrue. I was wrong to not tell the truth. I apologize to USC for this action on my part.”
Etra would not discuss how Shaw was injured other than to say the player fell off a balcony at the Orsini Apartments in Los Angeles last Saturday night.
The Los Angeles Police Department said Tuesday that Shaw’s name was in a report from an incident that occurred at the Orsini complex on North Figueroa Street Saturday about 10 p.m.
Officers arrived on the scene to check on a report of a woman’s screams from a third-floor unit, police said. No one answered the door, so the officers forced entry. No one was inside.
A neighbor reported seeing a man run across or scale a balcony, and gave a general description of the individual. Later, as officers interviewed a female resident of the complex, they told her what the one witness had seen. She responded, “Sounds like my boyfriend, Josh Shaw,” said Lt. Andrew Neiman, an LAPD spokesman. The woman also told the officers Shaw was at dinner with friends, Neiman said.
Shaw resides at the Orsini with Kevon Seymour, a junior cornerback on USC’s team.
The police say Shaw is not a suspect in any crime. However, an LAPD official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to comment on the situation, said authorities were attempting to work through USC to speak with Shaw and his girlfriend.
USC said Shaw had apologized for misleading his coaches, teammates, athletic department officials and the public.
“I appreciate that Josh has now admitted that he lied and has apologized,” Sarkisian said. “Although this type of behavior is out of character for Josh, it is unacceptable.”
Shaw’s story blew up over social media Monday after USC posted on its website an account of Shaw’s heroics in saving his nephew, a tale that included his leaping from a second-story balcony at an apartment during a family function in Palmdale. Shaw suffered high-ankle sprains, the story said.
Media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, immediately responded with reports of Shaw’s courageous act.
But the story turned Tuesday when Sarkisian announced USC was investigating after receiving phone calls that contradicted Shaw’s account.
Shaw requested a meeting with USC officials Wednesday afternoon, a school spokesman said. With Etra, a criminal defense attorney whose previous clients include Rhianna and Snoop Dogg, and family members present, Shaw revealed he had lied, the spokesman said.
A few hours later, the school made its announcement. In its release, USC said it regretted posting the original story.
USC began insulating players Wednesday morning, when defensive players are typically made available to the media during a game week. Only junior defensive end Leonard Williams and senior linebacker Hayes Pullard, both team captains, were allowed to speak with reporters.
“We were pretty shocked because Josh Shaw is a pretty loyal guy since he’s been here,” Williams said. “I would never expect him to make up a story or something like that. So if it’s real or not ... I would never expect him as a captain to be in that situation.”
USC’s announcement later in the day made the situation no more believable in the eyes of a couple of Shaw’s teammates, who spoke anonymously because USC had asked them not to speak about the topic with the media.
“It’s a surprise to all of us,” said one. “It’s wrong timing for the program, but we have to focus on Saturday. I’m praying for Josh and praying he’s OK at the end of all this.”
Said another: “Josh Shaw has been a top-notch dude since the day I got here. He’s not a guy I’d pick off a roster to lie like this.”
Asked whether Shaw would return to the Trojans this season, Haden said, “It’s way too early to think that. We’ll kind of see and follow the story to its ultimate conclusion.”
Times staff writers Gale Holland, Richard Winton and Joe Serna contributed to this report.