Josh Shaw incident raises questions

It seemed too good to be true — now we find out it might literally be too good to be true.

I didn’t think too much of the story when I first came across it on the Spirit of Troy Facebook page, where a link to the article on USC’s athletic website had been posted. It seemed fitting that the marching band’s page would be the first to alert me of the story — the ever-so-aptly-named Spirit of Troy epitomizes Trojan pride even more than the Coliseum student section or even the football team itself, so it wasn’t a big surprise that the band was the first to recognize the essence of what we hope any USC student-athlete is.

I then saw the article again at the top of ESPN’s website and thought maybe the media was making a bigger deal out of this than it should. I’m a huge ESPN fan and really respect how the network revolutionized the sports media industry, but the company certainly doesn’t mind milking the feel-good stories as much as it can, and I wasn’t sure if this qualified as national news.

It sure does now.

I certainly wasn’t skeptical about the story before speculation that it might be a cover-up. It’s obviously unusual to hear a person jump from the second story of an apartment building to rescue a child drowning in a pool, but not unheard of. It’s not like saying Shaw developed Jedi powers and lifted his young nephew out of the water using The Force.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 137 kids under 15 years of age died from drowning during the summer season of 2012, so it’s not an uncommon occurrence around this time of year. My grandpa actually sacrificed a wristwatch once to rescue an ambitious 4-year-old me back before I had a conceptual grasp on the idea of “the deep end” of pools.

But in hindsight, this water rescue story doesn’t exactly hold water. I wondered why Shaw didn’t dive straight into the pool or climb down any stairs instead of jumping onto concrete, but I don’t know enough about his apartment layout or his level of adrenaline to make a judgment. The incident occurred in Palmdale, around an hour-and-a-half drive from campus, and with the season so close I would expect players to be living on campus full-time. On the other hand, the incident did occur this past Saturday and the team doesn’t practice on weekends. The next big question was why no one called an ambulance for Shaw’s nephew, but maybe Shaw acted before any physical damage was done to the 7-year-old — I didn’t need CPR after my drowning scare, just a towel.

The story got fishier when the alleged “other side of the story” came into discussion. After initially expressing no doubt over Shaw’s claim, coach Steve Sarkisian told the media after practice Tuesday that the school was investigating the legitimacy of the story due to phone calls the school had received questioning the legitimacy of the story.

Nicole Auerbach, Josh Peter and Tess Quinlan of USA Today reported that a woman who identified herself as Shaw’s sister, Asia Shaw, defended her brother’s original version story.  Though some are reporting that she was not present at the family event during which the action allegedly took place, she confirmed that her 7-year-old son, Shaw’s nephew, can not swim and that Josh Shaw allegedly reacted to the incident because the family member who was supposed to be watching the boy had looked away. She referred to reports that Josh Shaw had actually been involved in a burglary as “speculation.”

The deputy of the sheriff station in Palmdale said that no call was made about Shaw on Saturday. The Los Angeles Police Department was asked about Shaw and is investigating the incident but didn’t produce any new information in their comment.

At this point, very little is clear, but there is plenty of speculation and we likely will have a better answer soon. For now, it certainly dents the focus of a team preparing for a new season that starts in less than a week.

Regardless of the cause, the ankle injury could have a big impact on USC’s secondary as Shaw started all 14 games last season at either safety or cornerback. Beyond his performance on the field, the true impact may be the questioning of the integrity of a senior leader. Not only has Sarkisian lauded his character in any question from the media, but he was named one of the captains of the team for the upcoming season.

Though there will likely be consequences if a crime occurred, Sarkisian is clearly giving Shaw the benefit of the doubt for the time being, and it’s something we all need to do too. This shouldn’t be entirely out of blind loyalty for a member of the Trojan family; it’s a constitutional right of any citizen in this country.

There’s a chance Shaw is a criminal, and there’s a chance he is a hero. There’s a chance he’s both, and there’s a chance he’s neither. It’s not worth guessing exactly where on that spectrum he falls because we don’t know what circumstances led to the incident.

It’s not our job to judge. It’s our job to stand and cheer when he comes out onto the field this Saturday with the rest of his teammates, even if he comes out on crutches.


Luke Holthouse is a sophomore double majoring in broadcast and digital journalism and policy, planning and development. His column, “Holthouse Party,” runs Wednesdays.