By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS)The protesters deserve to be heard once again.
They gathered outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena to help bring attention to Steve Alford’s unconscionable behavior after his star player turned sexual assailant. They stood for what was right after the Iowa coach acted to shield a violent criminal and intimidate the victim both publicly and privately.
Eleven years later, too many have forgotten exactly what Alford did in the aftermath of that incident in Iowa City on September 6, 2002. The University of New Mexico didn’t care, welcoming him for a desert exile long enough to fade too many memories.
None of it appears to matter to UCLA, either.
Pierre Pierce performed unwanted sex acts on a female student at his apartment, covering her mouth when she tried to scream. He eventually plea-bargained to a charge of assault causing injury, later issuing a public apology for "inappropriate sexual contact with a fellow student."
Had Alford succeeded in his efforts to strong-arm the victim, it all would have evaporated. The disgusting ploy backfired, however, and only steeled her resolve to pursue criminal charges.
Alford enlisted the help of close friend Jim Goodrich, the campus representative for Christian group Athletes in Action who often traveled with the team and conducted bible-study sessions. Per specific instruction from Alford, the victim was invited to what she was told was a "prayer meeting," at which she was urged to back off and not cause problems for a basketball program that could overpower her.
Don’t make waves, honey, in the name of Jesus. The Lord wants you to shut up, if you know what’s good for you.
According to the official report from the special committee that later investigated the handling of the case after the ugly facts emerged, "The desire to facilitate an informal resolution of the matter may have had the opposite result. The Committee recommends that the Athletic Department take steps to limit the involvement of outside advisors, religious or otherwise."
The report also slapped down Alford for his boorish public statements trying to defend his player from any criticism. "I totally believe he’s innocent," Alford affirmed at Big Ten Media Day. "I believed it from day one, and I still believe it."
He clearly knew otherwise, having already tried to make her go away. Still, he took every opportunity to vouch for Pierce and question the victim, including during an interview with The Boers And Bernstein Show on 670 The Score in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Tribune reported "Sources close to the victim say that hearing Alford go out of his way to defend the moral fiber of Pierce these past few months, and turning it into another one of his all-for-one sermons was, in fact, the most painful aspect of trying to move on."
The school’s report later listed this behavior among its concerns, concluding "While Coach Alford believed he was acting as he had been directed in making the statements he made to the media, one set of those statements – confirming his certainty in Pierce’s innocence – implied that he disbelieved and discredited the claims of the student victim, and his words were perceived as reflecting insensitivity to issues of sexual assault and sexual violence."
After the plea deal, Alford was also rebuked by Johnson County State’s Attorney Patrick White, who told the Daily Iowan "We have difficulty getting convictions in these kinds of cases because victims are afraid of how they will be treated or how juries will look at them."
As described in the Tribune story, a furious Alford responded to White’s comments by initiating a phone call that became a shouting match.
And this sweet guy Pierce — the person on whom Alford staked his own, righteous word – was arrested again in 2005. He pled guilty to two charges of first-degree burglary, assault with intent to commit sexual assault, and fourth-degree criminal mischief. He spent 11 months in jail before being released on probation.
Every bit of this information was available to UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who celebrated the introduction of Alford as his new head coach Saturday, calling him "the perfect fit for UCLA."
"He’s ready for this stage," Guerrero said. "He’ll handle the expectations with dignity, with understanding and with class."