Here’s What Really Happened to the USC Player and His Drowning Nephew

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Back in August, one of the most uplifting stories about NCAA football, a sport that sorely needed some cheer and good press, was proven to be false. When Josh Shaw, a safety and co-captain for the USC Trojans, was initially reported to have broken both of his ankles in an effort to save his drowning nephew, it was a nice reminder that there were athletes who were doing good things, rather than having their lives changed forever for the worse by the sports they played or being examined for exactly how they hit their fiancee in an elevator. The dark cloud that followed soon after was a definite bummer, in the parlance of our times.

For anyone needing a refresher, it turned out that Shaw hadn’t been trying to save his nephew at all, and wasn’t even attending any sort of birthday party or family celebration — in short order he confessed that he’d made the story up, was summarily suspended by the team and that was that. There were whispers about police involvement, but no one was able to find out anything concrete about it. And time moved on, and the curious case of Josh Shaw’s ankles was filed away into the general shadiness category that encompasses far too much of the news about the NCAA. Until this week.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times, apropos of very little beyond the fact that we’re all well into the college football season, ran a feature on Shaw, why he’d lied, what actually happened the night he sprained his ankles (the breaks reported at the time were, in fact, sprains), and what was going on with him at USC, who sits at 6-3 right now. The results were fascinating, and do indeed help to explain the thought process that lead to the situation he’s in now — waiting to play for the team that he captained. It started, as some of these stories do, with an argument between Shaw and his girlfriend.

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The story, according to Shaw, was that after the argument, she left the apartment while he stayed. After a little while, he looked out the window and saw police lights. And then, well, then we’ll have to let him take it from here.

“We were not on good terms when she left, I thought she had somebody call authorities. I was thinking the worst,” Shaw told the LA Times. “If she did say anything, I’m a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in St. Louis — in my mind, I’m going to leap from the balcony so authorities did not see me. [sic]” So he jumped off the balcony, wearing flip flops, and promptly sprained both of his ankles. From there, Shaw put his education to use and came up with a story that, in Shaw’s words, would elicit a response of “‘Josh, if you got hurt, that’s a good reason to get hurt.” We can follow his logic there.

The safety also admitted that he thought that his story was going to be bulletproof, and that he never anticipated it going viral. That’s less defensible, of course, but overall, there wasn’t an awful lot of overt egregiousness to the story. It was, at its heart, not nearly as nefarious as we might have suspected, or wanted to suspect.