Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. He and his wife live in Fayetteville.
Bielema apolgoizes for Agu comments
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema talks with the media before a private Signing Day in the Rock event Thursday evening in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema issued a public apology Friday following comments Thursday night about a recently deceased football player at California.
Speaking to the White County Razorback Club in Searcy, Bielema referenced the recent death of Ted Agu when making a case for a proposed rule that would force teams to wait 10 seconds between plays to allow defensive substitutions.
"It was brought to my attention that remarks I made yesterday evening while discussing a proposed rule change were unintentionally hurtful," Bielema said in a statement through the university's media relations office. "I am very passionate, as we all are, about the serious nature of protecting the well-being of student-athletes, and earlier today I was interviewed by SI.com writer Andy Staples to explain my stance on the proposed rule.
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"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.”
In the Sports Illustrated interview, Bielema said he referenced Agu's death in a question-and-answer session with media to raise awareness about sickle cell trait, which he said at least a half-dozen of his players have. Agu reportedly died from the disease after collapsing during a team run on Feb. 7.
"The reason I brought up the Cal player is this: We all have sickle cell players," Bielema said. "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."
Bielema's comments were met with harsh criticism nationally. California athletics director Sandy Barbour addressed the second-year Razorbacks coach on Twitter Friday afternoon.
"Bret Bielema's comments about our Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive," Barbour wrote. "Using the tragic loss of one of our student athletes as a platform to further a personal agenda in a public setting is beyond inappropriate."