In the days after three UCLA men’s basketball players were arrested in China for allegedly shoplifting during a November visit, emails and letters poured in to university Chancellor Gene Block from angry fans, alumni and people with no connection to the school at all. There were hundreds and hundreds of messages, some written with perfect grammar and sober typefaces, others screeching and incoherent and laid out in Comic Sans. One author, a self-identified former UCLA crew letterman, somberly informed the chancellor that he was enclosing his old varsity sweater.
The three players ― LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill ― are black. Was the furious reaction about race? Not at all, said one correspondent, a little unconvincingly: “My decision is not based on the color of the skin of these thieves. Of my six grandchildren four are biracial.”
Very much so, said another: “Don’t surprise me you LOOK LIKE A FUDGPACKING FAGGOT !@ YOU SHOULD BE SO PROUD, 3 MONKEYS GETTING FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE RIDE AND EMBARRASS YO SCHOOL BY ACTING LIKE THE NIGGERS THEY APPARENTLY ARE !”
And on and on they went, the emails nearly universal in their disdain for the athletes. Many of them were clearly spurred on by the involvement of President Donald Trump, who was just then initiating a feud with LaVar Ball, father of LiAngelo. HuffPost obtained the emails via a public records request, and in them the whole modern American backlash is on display. Expressions of lofty disapproval, bloodthirsty formalism, coded racism, frank racism — hey, hey, the gang’s all here.
“They have embarrassed their country as well as their race,” read one note. “They put shame on UCLA, their race and our country,” read another. “3 JERKS — DISGRACED THE COLLEGE — OUR COUNTRY AND THEIR RACE!” read a third, this one a handwritten letter.
The full collection of emails and letters, all 637 pages, appears at the bottom of this post.
First, some background: Ball, Riley and Hill, all freshmen, were arrested on Nov. 7 during the UCLA team’s early-season trip to China to play Georgia Tech. The players, according to Chinese authorities and later by their own admissions, had stolen sunglasses and other merchandise from three department stores in Hangzhou.
On Nov. 15, Block and UCLA suspended the players indefinitely. Ball has since left the program to play professionally overseas. Hill and Riley are serving one-season suspensions.
The arrests became a national story in part because of Trump, who claimed credit for helping the players avoid a possible 10-year prison sentence in China. Some of the emails sent to Block took their cues from Trump’s version of events. “Never again should anyone be allowed to commit a crime where President Trump has to come to UCLA’s rescue. It is absolutely disgusting,” one correspondent wrote. “The man who probably stands against just about everything the UCLA community defends comes to the rescue of people who unfortunately are associated with UCLA.”
ESPN has since reported that UCLA officials had resolved the issue with Chinese authorities before they heard from Trump or White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
It was a simple case of minor theft, but from the wailing of the emails you might have thought the players had rampaged through the Forbidden City. Nothing short of the total annihilation of the young men’s academic and professional lives would suffice in the eyes of many of the emailers. The players deserved the full force of American (and perhaps even Chinese) law for having swiped and ultimately returned a few pairs of sunglasses and other merchandise. One emailer told Block to “recommend that they not be rewarded with any professional contracts.”
Time and again, emailers returned to the theme that the players were “entitled” athletes who didn’t truly belong in college, especially not one as prestigious as UCLA. This racist exceptionalism ― the idea that black men can only earn their way into college through athletic talent ― flows in part from the reality of the school’s population. Black men make up only about 3 percent of the male student body at UCLA, and a majority of them are athletes. As a viral video produced by students noted, the university has had more national sports championships in its history than it had black male freshmen in 2013’s enrollment class.
In the emails, the usual racial code words were frequently deployed. The athletes were called some variation of “entitled” or “spoiled” nearly 50 times. “Stupid,” “arrogant” and “above the law” also appeared regularly. There were at least 18 uses of “thug,” as in “entitled millionaire thugs,” in 14 separate emails. The players were also labeled “ingrates,” “fucking embarrassing morons,” “miscreant prima donnas” and “reprobates.”
More than a dozen times, emailers explicitly referenced their own status as “taxpayers,” as if to suggest (in one writer’s view) that they were tired of “subsidizing” athletes like Ball, Riley and Hill.
And sometimes, the emailers dispensed with the racial coding altogether. One subject line: “Black Basketball Thieves.” Another message declared that what the players did was “Super-Idiocy!” It went on: “And you’re going to let these morons earn a college degree at UCLA? Looks like they fulfill the stereotype of a ‘simpleton black athlete.’”
The batch of emails included one that seemed to link the players to Michael Brown, the teenager shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. “It’s when people like them get away with stealing from shops that people like [redacted] feel just as entitled to do the same in Missouri.”
In the documents provided to HuffPost, UCLA appears to have redacted the players’ names and any specific identification of them, as a way of formally protecting their identities. But you don’t need a decoder ring to figure out what these passages are trying to say (sic throughout):
UCLA must send a strong message on what it expects from such role models ― let’s not lie to ourselves, that’s what they are to millions of young [redacted] males. It’s when people like them get away with stealing from shops that people like [redacted] feel just as entitled to do the same in Missouri. Then he gets angry when someone tries to stop him, and he charges at the cop ― and gets shot. It all starts when responsible institutions like UCLA give up on their responsibilities. Expel the thugs!
Stealing designer sunglasses from Louis Vuitton in China while our president Trump is visiting is NOT who we are as a nation, but it is definitely who they are, a bunch of knuckleheads, lowlifes, thugs, and [redacted] with attitude.
Why would you ever let trash like that out of the country?? It aint no big deal! No other country in the world would take the crap that we do from a minority 13% of a population for the majority of crime and other A-Z Any other minority in the US seem to be able to make it along with a moral compass. Not to excuse slavery but for decade’s now [redacted] that wants to half way follow the program will make it. Its time to not hear any more excuses and crutching!
These three should not get a pass, just because of the color of their skin.
If they are attending your university on scholarships I strongly suggest they loose them. They can turn to their hero Colin Kaepernick, GQ’s Citizen of the Year for help.
What they did was not just stupid, it was ghetto and criminal, and we have no doubt that if there is another LA riot that they will be looting and vandalizing with their brothers.
Congratulations for continuing to show China what American atheltes exist in this country.
China reads about the NFL players disregard to the American Flag and police that proudly give their life everyday to protect them, to this display of disrespect of China, America and the UCLA basketball program and school.
To some emailers, it was clear that the three players were experienced criminals …
I can only assume they have never been held accountable because they can shoot a ball into a basket.
For these athletes to steal with the comfort level displayed showed they clearly had done this before.
Pampered puss ants who probably let their trouser snakes out on campus screwing anything they see! FUCK EM!!
… and that they weren’t good enough students to be at UCLA in the first place:
Two of the fellows could hardly speak english.
And did you notice that your student athletes had trouble reading their prepared statements? Shame on UCLA.
How did these students get into UCLA in the first place? I bet it probably wasn’t scholastics. … Dumber than a 2nd coat of paint!
I am embarrassed when your student athletics, like your arrested basketball players and even last year’s player [redacted] give interviews and use the word “ain’t ”. Children at age four learn that “ain’t” is not proper grammar and unacceptable. This example simply proves you have no regard for even teaching you student-athletics basic English grammar. Stop the nonsense.
It is an embarrassment to our country and your so called “education system” (what in the world are you teaching them anyway?) to have such reprobates representing us in foreign countries.
For too long California taxpayers have been subsidizing free education for questionable athletes/students. … There needs to be more vetting of these student athletes, background checks, and general review of their understanding of civics and ethics, before California Taxpayers continue to subsidize these people.
At a minimum, remove them from the basketball team. Of course this really means remove them from UCLA as they have no other use to be there since they can’t play basketball.
I’m sick of paying for a full SCHOLARSHIP for future wifebeater/ drug dealing, criminal scum who get away with stuff that have a normal person in jail for 20 years, but they are “Great ballplayers”, so they get to skate free.
Some even suggested the players were indicative of everything wrong with American culture by comparing them to Harvey Weinstein and other famous people implicated in sexual harassment and assault cases:
[T]hey are toxic to the school and the sport just like serial sex predator Harvey Weinstein who is now a Hollywood pariah”
UCLA cannot stand by and turn a blind eye to this disgrace…it is akin to the many in the entertainment industry whom allowed Harvey Weinstein and his ilk to victimize individuals in the name of money and fame. … I must insist – no, demand – that these disgraceful, criminal thugs be permanently expelled from UCLA for their heinous behavior and criminal acts.
I’m particularly troubled by what appears to be the emerging excuse – that they’re young men, who made a very foolish mistake. To me, that’s a bit like Kevin Spacey coming out as gay when he’s charged with sexual misconduct.
Look at the news; Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. The time to say enough is enough is now.
For UCLA, if these young men are allowed to continue to be students there, at a time when entitlement is under such scrutiny because of the misdeeds in Washington, in Hollywood, news agencies, workplaces, academia and homes throughout the country, giving these players a pass adds insult to injury. Our moral and ethical scales are calibrated today to benefit the powerful over the ordinary. If they stay on campus, it may appear that UCLA is putting a thumb on the scale promoting star power at a time when we are at a moral crossroads.
And some who emailed Block said that he and UCLA should have left the players in China to face legal proceedings and potential jail time there:
I find it shameful that our President brought the thieving basketball players home.
Hopefully they will go to jail in China.
They rightfully deserved to be tried and punished under Chinese law.
They deserve to be in a Chinese prison.
Our country now owes a Communist country a favor. This is serious.
This is one of the few times we have disagreed with the actions of the President. In our opinion, the young men should have received Chinese legal proceedings and suffered the consequences.
Like a bubble gum chewer in China they should have been left to face a bamboo whip.
Only a handful of the emails sent to Block suggested that the appropriate punishment for the petty crimes the players committed in China wasn’t to ruin their entire lives.
“Chancellor Block,” one person wrote, “Please do not give up on these young UCLA men. Stick by them & help them grow.”