Bret Bielema’s passionionate support for a new 10-second defensive substitution rule, which would limit hurry-up offenses centers on a concern for player safety.
The Arkansas coach was asked during a Razorbacks booster club meeting about what evidence he had to support that concern to which Bielema replied, ‘Death certificates,’ refering to the recent death of Cal football player Ted Agu. Agu passed away after collapsing during a conditioning drill earlier this month.
In an effort to clarify his comments from Thursday night, Bielema spoke with Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated in which he stated that he believes almost every team has players afflicted with sickle cell trait and that undo stress put on them playing up-tempo offenses could lead to disaster.
“We all have sickle cell players,” Bielema said in the interview. “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.”
“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 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,” Bielema added.
Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour took to Twitter to voice her displeasure with Bielema's comments from Thursday night.
"Bret Bielema's comments about our Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive," she tweeted. "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."
Bielema, through the University of Arkansas, issued a statement apologizing for his comments centered on Agu from Thursday night.
"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.”
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