Alford's statement not rooted in reality

Karla Miller works her way through a notebook -- and two more like it -- that chronicle a story the University of Iowa campus is still reliving. And as she does, the horror perpetrated by former basketball player Pierre Pierce's sexual assault of a female student in 2002, and the complicity demonstrated afterward by then-coach Steve Alford, revisits Miller like a violent flashback.

"Holy moly," said Miller, the executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program in Iowa City. "It's article after article."

Miller is being pulled back to the case of the former basketball star who ended up pleading guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor assault -- and three years later, spent 11 months in prison on a separate burglary and sexual assault charge -- because of Alford's recent statements following his hiring as coach at UCLA.

Specifically, Miller is contemplating Alford's statement of apology, issued by UCLA on Thursday, after two weeks of scrutiny about his hiring because of his behavior following the Iowa attack.

In the statement, Alford said he "instinctively and mistakenly came to [Pierce's] defense before knowing all the facts."

"I wanted to believe he was innocent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course," the statement continues. "This was inappropriate, insensitive and hurtful, especially to the young female victim involved, and I apologize for that. I have learned and grown from that experience and now understand that such proclamations can contribute to an atmosphere in which similar crimes go unreported and victims are not taken seriously."

"It's hard to watch all of this going on," Miller said. "It's certainly not the first sexual assault case that has involved an athlete, but what made this one so notable on lots of levels was [Alford's] responsibility and his intervention on behalf of Pierce.

"His apology may have sounded like oh, he initially reacted and then got more information and changed his response. But that's just not how it came down. It's revisionist history. And that's hard. When somebody makes statements like he did and tried to sanitize a situation in which horrible damage was caused … that should not go without comment."

And so Miller works her way through the old clips.

"He's a great kid and I'm going to stand by him," Alford said of Pierce.

"I told him this will test his strength like nothing else ... I told him this was a fight he's ready for."

"We're behind [Pierce] one hundred percent."

"It would be easy for Pierre to pack it in and leave Iowa, but he's not going to."

"I didn't get to talk to him at the courthouse but he's very good and he's good because he's confident."

"It's just time after time after time," Miller says. "It's one thing to say he needs help. Or, 'I'm concerned about this guy and I want to find out what happened.' Or, 'I'm going to suspend judgment on any of it until we let the courts figure it out.' But actually he shouldn't have commented on any of it.

"That's one of the things so amazingly outrageous, that there's no way Alford would have seen the evidence or been able to be in any position to know what happened."

In his initial comments upon accepting the UCLA job on April 2, Alford said he simply "followed everything I was told to do [by the university and its attorneys]."

But former Johnson County attorney Patrick White, the prosecutor at the time, was furious in 2002 at what he said was the added pain caused to the victim because of Alford's public defense of Pierce. And for the past two weeks, he has been following the latest Alford comments.

"There's a distinction between what we say and what we do," White said. "[Alford] may have done what he was told to do, but I'm pretty sure he was not told to proclaim [Pierce's] innocence."

Alford said in his statement Thursday he didn't know all of the facts. Here's what he did know: Pierce was accused of covering a young women's mouth so that she could not cry out while he was allegedly sexually assaulting her.

The statement also failed to mention something else that happened after the assault.

In a report by a committee commissioned by University of Iowa president David Skorton to investigate the school's role in resolving the case, it was detailed that: "... individuals affiliated with Athletes in Action, a religious organization, contacted the victim to seek an informal resolution of the matter by asking the victim to meet informally for prayer with the perpetrator. One of those individuals had a longstanding relationship with the basketball program and its coach, which included traveling with the basketball team and conducting voluntary chapel and Bible study activities for the team and staff."

In other words, according to the report, Alford tried to indirectly coerce the victim into dropping her charges. The victim's response, the report said, was to pursue criminal charges against Pierce.

"I'm not sure who would think this apology is just a coincidence, that he decided to apologize after all these years and that it just happened to be when he was getting a new job and this issue has come up," Miller said.

On Friday, ChicagoSideSports.com quoted Pierce, who said he was back in his hometown of Chicago because he was injured while playing in France, and that he called Alford last week to congratulate him on the UCLA job.

"We still speak from time to time," Pierce said. "I just wanted to give him congratulations. Coach Alford is always someone I respect."

After denying another incident recounted by Iowa City Press-Citizen columnist Pat Harty in which Pierce allegedly refused to leave the dorm room of Harty's then-18-year-old niece until her screams drove him away, Pierce reiterated to the website his close bond with Alford.

"We have a coach-player relationship," Pierce said. "And it was more than that when he was coaching me. From time to time, I check up on him and he checks up on me. He wishes me the best and I wish him the best."

The Iowa City community should be commended for the number of people who stood up for the victim and against Alford at the time. Many boycotted games. But that does not mean the victim was spared those who questioned her in the name of team loyalty.

"If you read the blogs," said Miller, "they were just vicious."

Asked if anything good has come from the matter, Miller hesitated.

"People choose what they value ..." she says. "We're talking about a lot of money that a player can generate for a program, so it would take an enormous amount of character for somebody to have the choice and to say, 'I'm not putting up with [unacceptable behavior], I don't care how good he is.' Now there are more and more coaches and administrators making that choice than before."

Alford promised he will be one of them.

The UCLA community can only hope so.