University of Wisconsin men's basketball director of strength and conditioning Erik Helland has resigned amid reports he used a racial epithet in the presence of multiple players.
Helland, who was placed on administrative leave on Monday and did not travel with the Badger men’s basketball team for its game at Minnesota on Wednesday, claims he was making a point about intensity when he quoted an NBA player who had used the epithet. Helland's repeat of the epithet took place Jan. 3, before the Badgers win at Ohio State.
“In a recent conversation with members of the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, I was sharing a story from my NBA career and explaining the intensity of a particular athlete, I quoted that individual, and in doing so, repeated a repugnant word," Helland said in a statement, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal. "In no way were these my words, and I clearly stated my disapproval. From the beginning, I owned what I said and made apologies to the student-athletes affected.
“I made a mistake in a moment of inattentiveness and for that I have the deepest regret.
“I can’t overstate this, I would never do anything — nor have I ever — done anything to intentionally insult or hurt any of our student-athletes. I would never do anything to hurt the team.
“My years working at UW were some of my proudest moments. I treasured my time here and the relationships I made with coaches, staff and athletes. And I thank every one of them. On, Wisconsin!”
A statement released Thursday by the UW athletic department read:
"UW Athletics administration was informed last weekend that Helland, while recounting a story from earlier in his NBA career, had used a racial epithet in the presence of multiple Wisconsin men’s basketball student-athletes. UW Athletics confirmed that assertion on Sunday. UW Athletics works to promote a safe and welcoming environment for its student-athletes and staff and the aforementioned language used does not align with the values of the athletic department, men’s basketball program or the university."
Earlier reports had indicated that Helland's comments were directed at one player in particular — Kobe King — who announced Jan. 29 that he was leaving the program. In his announcement, posted on Twitter, King thanked the Wisconsin coaching staff individually by name, as well as "our strength trainer Coach Helland and my academic advisors."
The UW has disputed the notion that King or any individual player was the target of Helland's remarks, stating, "Multiple public reports have indicated that UW Athletics has been investigating the alleged use of racially insensitive language directed at one student-athlete. That allegation is inaccurate. UW Athletics has no evidence—nor has it been alleged to the athletic department —that Helland directed racially insensitive language toward any member of the men’s basketball team."
King was the second-leading scorer for the now 13-10 Badgers, averaging 10 points per game.