A feel-good story of heroics back in late August quickly unraveled and turned USC’s Josh Shaw into a national punchline. Lying about saving his nephew from drowning led to an indefinite suspension that has kept the cornerback from playing a single down his senior season.
Shaw had yet to speak publicly about how he became entangled in the fabricating business… until now.
In an interview with Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, Shaw confirmed that he suffered a pair of high-ankle sprains jumping from the balcony of his girlfriend’s apartment following a loud argument with her. What preceded the infamous leap was Shaw looking out a window and seeing police cars pulling up to the building, leading him to assume his girlfriend had called the cops. Shaw said a volatile situation halfway across the country led to a decision that will likely lead to him never playing a down again for the Trojans.
“We were not on good terms when she left, I thought she had somebody call authorities. I was thinking the worst,” he said. “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 [Ferguson, Mo.] … in my mind, I’m going to leap from the balcony so authorities did not see me.”
Shaw said, as soon as he landed, he knew right away that he was injured, although he feared he shattered both of his legs. Instead of calling head coach Steve Sarkisian, or even his father — “My father is someone with wisdom, my father would have me tell the truth, we would have called Sark that night.” — Shaw called his brother, who came and picked him up. While at his brother’s house, he concocted the story that would prove to be his downfall.
What Shaw didn’t expect is exactly what happened: the story went viral after the school released what they thought were the feel-good details of how the player incurred his injuries. Shaw said he knew things had spiraled out of control when he saw the story being replayed on Sportscenter. Still, he kept up the lie because he “was in way too deep” to back out.
“I didn’t think it could be proved that story was not true,” he said. “My sister [Asia] was having a party … my cousin does have a balcony over his pool…. It involved only myself, my sister, two or three little kids, and my cousin.”
That sister had even came out very publicly in her brother’s defense, “confirming” that her brother had saved her son from drowning.
Reports began to surface, however, that a police report named a “Josh Shaw” in connection to a possible break-in at an apartment just a few miles from USC’s campus at some point between 10 and 11 local time the night of Aug. 23. That’s around the same time that the USC cornerback with the same name was reportedly in the process of getting hurt while saving a relative.
Shaw, who acknowledged that he likely wouldn’t have fabricated the story if he had known he’d only suffered sprains instead of broken bones, seemed particularly down about flat-out lying to his head coach.
Things got deeper Tuesday morning [Aug. 26], just before Shaw was going to be wheeled out to meet the media at practice. USC officials had started hearing stories from police and other sources about an incident Saturday at the apartment building. Before taking the field, Shaw was asked directly by Coach Steve Sarkisian whether the story was true. He told him yes.
“Sark says, ‘I’m going to take your word for it,’” said Shaw, pursing his lips and looking down. “I regret it greatly… to lie to my head coach, who I greatly respect, that’s tough.”
That Tuesday night, Shaw told his parents the truth of what really happened. The following morning, he did the same with USC officials.
“My biggest mistake wasn’t jumping from the balcony, it was in not calling my father after I did,” Shaw said. “I would not be sitting with you today if I done so. I tried to keep it from my father, and I will regret that to the day I die.”
Police continue to investigate the domestic incident that preceded the fabrication, although no charges are expected. Shaw has been back practicing with the team for nearly two months, although he’s yet to play as the police probe continues.
It’s unknown whether Shaw will play in any of the Trojans’ final three regular season games or a bowl game.