LOS ANGELES — Southern California cornerback Josh Shaw confessed that he lied to school officials about how he sprained his ankles last weekend, retracting his story about jumping off a balcony to save his drowning nephew.
The school swiftly suspended him Wednesday from all team activities and acknowledged his heroic tale was “a complete fabrication.”
The tale began to unravel soon after the team captain was lauded for his heroics in a story on the team’s website Monday. In the account, Shaw described how he instinctively jumped from a balcony, with no one around, to rescue his 7-year-old nephew in a pool in his hometown of Palmdale, California. The school said a day later callers questioned the story, and began vetting it.
But the biggest question remains unanswered: What was he doing, and how did he injure his ankles?
“We are extremely disappointed in Josh,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “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.”
The Los Angeles Police Department has confirmed that a man named Joshua Shaw was mentioned — but not as a suspect — in a report involving a break-in at a downtown apartment building Saturday night. The department has not made the report public.
Shaw is a fifth-year senior, a captain and a key starter in USC’s defensive secondary. He is widely considered a solid teammate and an important leader for the 15th-ranked Trojans, who begin their first season under Sarkisian at the Coliseum on Saturday against Fresno State.
Shaw issued a short statement through criminal defense attorney Donald Etra on Wednesday after being suspended.
“On Saturday, August 23, 2014, I injured myself in a fall,” Shaw said. “I made up a story about this fall that was untrue. I was wrong not to tell the truth. I apologize to USC for this action on my part. My USC coaches, the USC athletic department and especially Coach Sarkisian have all been supportive of me during my college career and for that, I am very grateful.”
Etra didn’t respond to a request for further details about the cause of Shaw’s injuries.
Shaw didn’t attend practice Wednesday, missing his second straight day of workouts. Although he is barred from team activities, his injuries also would keep him out of workouts for at least a few weeks.
Shortly after Shaw’s yarn was made public, the football program received phone calls contradicting Shaw’s version of his injuries. Sarkisian has not said who made the calls, but the school acknowledged the discrepancies Tuesday morning and began investigating Shaw, who initially stuck to his story.
“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. Honesty and integrity must be at the center of our program. I believe Josh will learn from this. I hope that he will not be defined by this incident, and that the Trojan Family will accept his apology and support him.”
It’s unclear whether Shaw could face additional discipline from USC for lying to school officials. A USC spokesperson didn’t immediately return a request for clarification about the school’s student conduct policies.
Shaw and the school still haven’t acknowledged any connection to the LAPD report from officers who responded to a woman screaming in a downtown apartment complex Saturday. USC is on the south end of downtown.
Officers interviewed several people at the building, and a woman told the police that someone had pried open a window, entered the third-floor apartment and fled, but nothing was taken. The woman also acknowledged “a relationship” with Shaw, according to LAPD Lt. Andy Nieman.
Sarkisian insisted the situation won’t be a distraction for the Trojans, but still allowed only two of Shaw’s defensive teammates to speak with the media after practice Wednesday morning.
Linebacker Hayes Pullard and defensive lineman Leonard Williams both acknowledged surprise at the situation that developed after Shaw’s account was challenged, but remained supportive of their fifth-year senior captain.
“We were pretty shocked,” said Williams, who hasn’t spoken to Shaw. “Josh Shaw is a pretty loyal guy. I would never expect him to make up a story. I would never expect that out of him as a team leader.”
Shaw’s leadership and character were widely praised throughout his first two seasons of play at the school. He transferred back to his native Los Angeles area from Florida, in part to help out his ailing grandfather with the family landscaping business.
“Josh has been a great guy,” Pullard said. “He has great character. I’ve never known him to lie about anything ... so it’s surprising. This is exactly when our leadership roles come in. We talk to guys and let them know what’s expected, and we’ll keep us focused on our team.”