Trump vs. LaVar Ball, and UCLA Loses


President Trump had a busy week on Twitter after three UCLA men's basketball players, detained for shoplifting in China earlier this month, were released from Chinese authorities' custody. The president took credit on Twitter for interceding on the players' behalf via Chinese president Xi Jinping during his 12-day trip to Asia, which unfolded over the same time period as the shoplifting incident:

Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2017

The players did indeed thank Trump: Later that day, UCLA held a press conference in which UCLA coach Steve Alford announced the players' suspensions and player Cody Riley stated, “To President Trump and the United States government, thank you for taking time to intervene on our behalf.” UCLA did not take questions following the press conference.

Pac-12, the collegiate athletic conference to which the UCLA team belongs, issued a statement that thanked its partners in China and attempted to shed a positive light on the games at large. This statement, along with the press conference, should have given UCLA and Pac-12 a chance to control the message around the incident.

Unfortunately for UCLA and Pac-12, the media storm continued. In an ESPN interview on Nov. 17, media personality LaVar Ball—who just happens to be the father of one of the detained players, LiAngelo Ball—appeared skeptical about the president's assistance: "What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out," said LaVar Ball.

President Trump responded two days later:

Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017

UCLA's and Pac-12's extended media moment following the incident in China is nothing new in an era in which not responding—as UCLA did by declining to take questions from the press—is a form of response in itself. We can now add UCLA to the list of brands ensnared in our divisive cultural and political climate. (See our coverage of Papa John's and Keurig.)

Representatives from UCLA and Pac-12 were unavailable for comment.

Follow Sophie: @SophieMaerowitz