clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bret Bielema elaborates on Ted Agu comments, sticks foot in mouth further

Bielema has since apologized for his statements after a harsh rebuke from Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour.

Bret Bielema, losing to an HUNH team (Auburn)
Bret Bielema, losing to an HUNH team (Auburn)
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE 2: Bielema issued remarks after Sandy's tweets. I initially thought it was an apology. Turns out they were just self-reflections. I don't see an apology, although the advocacy of his campaign to protect student athletes definitely lives on!

Here is the summary of his Tweets via his Twitter.

It was brought to my attention that remarks I made yesterday evening while discussing a proposed rule change were unintentionally hurtful. I am very passionate, as we all are, about the serious nature of protecting the well-being of student-athletes. Earlier today I was interviewed by Andy Staples to explain my stance on the proposed rule. In my press conference last night, I referenced information about the tragic loss of a life of a student-athlete. My comments were intended to bring awareness to player safety and instead they have caused unintended hurt. As a head coach who works with young individuals every day. The passing of Ted Agu is a reminder to us all how short and precious life is. I would like to extend my deepest condolences and sympathy to the Agu family, Coach Sonny Dykes and to the University of California family.

UPDATE: Sandy speaks.

So Bret Bielema responded to the initial outrage about his statements in an interview with Sports Illustrated. And of course he starts off with a faulty premise. Why did you bring up the Cal player's death?

Bret Bielema: The reason I brought up the Cal player is this: We all have sickle cell players. To me, it's the most scary individual thing we face. There are no signs. There are no indicators. You test every one of your players when they come in. And there are players who come in that have no idea they have it. Then you've got to call the parents, sit the kid down and talk to them what it means -- what the possibilities of things happening are. It's a scary deal. But you contact the mom and dad and you tell them, listen, the one thing we'll do is we'll have our trainers locked into it. His coaches know. His position coach knows, and I know as the head coach. We're always going to be looking out for his well-being. You promise them that. I always make the guarantee when I'm in the parents' home. I say I can't guarantee playing time or a degree, but I'm going to guarantee that I'll help you get both. And the second thing I can guarantee is that I'll always look out for the safety and the well-being of your son. When you're halfway across the country, that means something. It means you're going to look out for their safety.

When this whole safety issue came up, everybody's thinking you're talking about knee injuries or hamstrings. I'm talking about the concussion crisis, sickle cell trait. This one [sickle cell trait] really scares you because you don't know when it's coming. The kids have difficulty breathing. They don't want to come out of practice or the game. All the ones I've ever been around, they want to stay in because they don't want their teammates to think they're quitting or stopping. What we began to rationalize is that when these players pass when they're involved in these conditioning drills, they pull themselves out of it or the trainer pulls them out of it because they're having difficulties. What if you're in the middle of the third or fourth quarter and you know that the kid standing 15 yards away from you or on the other side of the field has this trait. He's got this built-in possibility of something happening. Your doctors have told you about it. Your trainers have told you about it. He looks at you through those eyes or maybe the trainer even says, "Hey coach, you need to get him out of there." And you can't. You have no timeouts. He's not going to fake an injury. He's not going to fall down.

Agu's family has said repeatedly that he has never been diagnosed with any form of sickle cell trait.

Ted’s brother Kency mentioned that the public’s speculation about the cause of his brother’s death have been very hurtful to the family and that he’s never been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. I realize that people are differentiating between sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait but it doesn’t sound like he was diagnosed with either.

Moreover, no cause of death has been determined in the matter; the autopsy report has yet to be released. Doctor Bielema has already asserted that Agu's death might have something to do with something he has never received any official diagnosis. But I guess a phone call to Sonny Dykes was too difficult to manage to get all your facts in line before bringing up such a prickly topic.

So thus the conclusion that you are building your argument up on (that football players with sickle cell will keep on playing and running despite normal conditions) is faulty. And exploitative.

Additionally, there is a very easy thing players who are feeling woozy or in pain can do to stop a football play: INSTRUCT YOUR PLAYERS TO TAKE A KNEE. THE CLOCK STOPS FOR AN INJURY TIMEOUT. THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS. TEAMS DO THIS ALL THE TIME. OUR OPPONENTS HAVE. WE HAVE!

Don't give me this bull that your players want to be macho and will do whatever their teammates want them to do to save face.  PLAYERS HAVE COACHES. THEY LISTEN TO THEIR COACHES.

(Well, good coaches at least. I'm not sure what exactly you are at the moment.)

Here, let's clarify what exactly you are doing. Cut all the nonsense about player safety and just get to what's really on your mind.

  • You hate hurry-up no-huddle (HUNH) offenses because you run a conventional big boy offense and defense that gets winded and run out of the building by teams that practice any form of this offense. You are a big man who want to see big players play slow games.
  • Because you can't stop teams on the field, you want to change the rules off of them so you can get the type of football you'd like to see played. Like a lobbyist, you care about the cause so much that it doesn't matter how you get the rule change through, just that it passes. So every fallacious argument that can be used, should be used. Appeals to fear and emotion run rampant here.
  • If you really cared about player safety, why not instruct players about the dangers of sickle cell trait and letting them know that they might have teammates that have sickle cell trait and that they shouldn't judge players if they get hurt or winded facing a fast-paced team? Why not have a debate about fan behavior when it comes to faking injuries and impose penalties on boors booing student-athletes who might or might not be hurt?
  • Basically, you don't want to get scapegoated as a coach who fakes injuries to stop HUNH. This is pretty much what it comes down to, doesn't it? Saving face.
  • You are propping up the death of a wonderful human being because he plays on a football team that runs a HUNH offense. You are implying that his death was caused by a trait that hasn't been confirmed by anyone and that the Cal coaching and training staff were incompetent in monitoring his medical history. You are implying that Sonny Dykes bears responsibility for the death of his football player because he runs the evil HUNH.
  • You are propping up Ted Agu's family as your victims when they did not ask to be part of this debate and find any such speculation about the death of their son "very hurtful".

Apologize. Now.

For those who wanted the video of Bret Bielema's original comments, here it is.

And the transcript is here.