Photos Courtesy of Tim March for XL Sports
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
On Tuesday night, Carlton Bragg got his New Mexico Lobo uniform back.
His name is another story.
But getting that name returned — whether it’s considered a good one, a bad one or somewhere in between — could be far more difficult than any triple-team Bragg might face on the floor the rest of the season.
And getting answers about his ongoing ordeal might be even more difficult.
On Dec. 22, Bragg and teammate JJ Caldwell were suspended indefinitely from the Lobos. The university announced, “they were being withheld from competition and team activity until further notice. The athletic department has received information that requires further review. In the meantime, there will be no additional comments from anyone at UNM until that process is complete.”
Caldwell is still out, and has hired high-powered lawyer Paul Kennedy to sue UNM over the suspension, But Bragg was reinstated last week.
The UNM athletic department announced his return with the following news release:
“After serving a three-game suspension, Carlton Bragg will rejoin all team activities effective immediately. Bragg was suspended after information was received by the athletic department in late December 2019 that required review by appropriate University personnel.”
The reinstatement, interestingly, came on the heels of the Lobos’ loss at lowly San Jose State.
Hey, values and punishments only go so far when you lose to the Spartans, right?
OK, that’s another issue.
And maybe it’s not such a bad loss after all. Just ask Little Stevie “Fredo” Alford after his Nevada Wolf Pack suffered the same fate on Wednesday night.
So what exactly happened with Bragg, and how will he be perceived the rest of the season?
UNM officials have yet to comment on the details of Bragg’s three-game suspension and have not made Bragg available for comment.
After Tuesday night’s game — a 78-64 Lobo win against visiting Fresno State in which
Bragg played 22 minutes but was just 1-of-7 from the floor with two points and seven boards — UNM coach Paul Weir was asked about Bragg’s return.
“I said (on Dec. 22) I’ll forward all the questions to my athletic director (Eddie Nuñez). That’s pretty much where I stand now.”
He later added, “When I can comment on things — I’ve always been transparent, I’ve always been up-front with people, I’m not trying to hide anything — and when that time comes, I’ll be happy to answer as many questions as I can.”
Nuñez also has not given details, and questions increased after this week’s news drop.
On Monday, Albuquerque police released an incident report to the media of allegations made against Bragg, a 6-foot, 10-inch senior forward.
The allegations were made on Nov. 5 by a 20-year-old woman, who told investigators last August — after a night of partying and drinking with 74+Bragg and others — she spent the night at Bragg’s girlfriend’s apartment. The woman said Bragg later came to the apartment on two occasions — while Bragg’s girlfriend spent the night elsewhere — and started kissing her and trying to undo her pants.
The report said “she was in fear that Carlton was going to rape her,” according to what she told investigators.
But the report also states that — as part of a video the woman took — there is a knock at the door and a female asks “Are you good? What’s going on in there?”
The woman accuser responds, “Nothing. Are you good? We will talk in the morning.”
With the words “attempted rape” in the headlines on Tuesday morning, it left even the most die-hard Lobo apologists in a quandary come Tuesday night at Dreamstyle Arena for the game against Fresno State.
Root for Bragg?
Or stay silent when his name is announced?
Which was a good move.
It took some pressure off of Bragg and off the crowd — officially listed at 10,010, but far fewer than that for the late-night contest against the Bulldogs (5-11, 1-4 in MWC).
Bragg entered the game during the first media timeout, allowing him to basically slip onto the court without any fanfare. I didn’t even notice his name being announced as play started, but was assured it was.
I didn’t hear much of a reaction one way or the other as play started, but was told by a person at the scorer’s table there was a small smattering of boos as he went to check-in during the timeout.
He definitely received a loud ovation after grabbing his first rebound of the night shortly thereafter and comments were few, if any, the rest of the night.
The reactions toward Bragg will undoubtedly be much more positive than negative from here on — as long as the senior forward is scoring and rebounding.
Let’s face it, we are talking about college sports fans.
But while Lobo fans are notorious for cheering their own regardless of off-court issues and jeering the opponent — including hometown kids playing for another school — how is Bragg going to be perceived in other arenas?
And in other aspects of life — where a person’s character is judged by much more than wearing a Lobo uniform?
Even at the Pit on Saturday, when the Lobos (14-3, 3-1) play host to Air Force, there are bound to be some in the stands feeling uncomfortable about how they should respond if Bragg;s name is announced in the starting lineup.
I suggest UNM handles Braggs’ court debut the same way it did on Tuesday, and let him first enter the game during the initial media timeout.
But Bragg’s uniform shouldn’t be what determines what view folks have of him. Right now, it’s a “he-said, she-said” story in which we’ve only heard the “she” part.
Doesn’t the public deserve to hear the “he” part?
More importantly, doesn’t Bragg deserve to tell it?
Can We Now Serve Some Facts?
It’s likely we will never know the entire truth of what happened happened between the 20-year-old woman and Bragg back in August.
But I can’t imagine UNM would let Bragg back on the squad without being dead certain that he will be cleared of any serious legal ramifications.
Still, there are all those questions.
If it is indeed Bragg is in the clear legally — remember, he has not been arrested — then why exactly did he serve the three-game suspension?
I can understand Bragg being held out while an investigation was taking place.
In this punish-first, investigate later world of PC correctness and the Me Too, Not You movement, the UNM administration didn’t have much of a choice and had to act as it did.
And it’s not like Bragg arrived in Loboland as a squeaky-clean 17-year-old academic All-American high schooler.
The 24-year-old Bragg was suspended twice while playing for Kansas — once after he was arrested and charged for domestic battery but reinstated after charges were dropped against him, then filed against his accuser — and once for being charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.
He transferred from Kansas to Arizona State, but was dismissed from the latter before before ever taking the court.
Still, maybe I’m just old school, but I still believe in someone’s innocence until proven otherwise.
Yikes, how non-woke of me!
And again, UNM did let Bragg back in the fold.
But the way the school phrased it, saying Bragg was reinstated “after serving a three-game suspension,” creates questions.
UNM didn’t simply say he was out while it was investigating, and he is now back and in good standing and we’re sorry to put Carlton through this.
So what exactly did he “serve” the suspension for?
Or maybe we will never hear anything. Which would be par for the course when it comes to the athletic department’s history of transparency.
But that doesn’t sound to fair to Bragg, if he is innocent.
The school listed the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act as preventing it from disclosing more information about the suspension or the results of the university’s review of the case.
But there is no law preventing Bragg, who received an undergraduate degree in December and apparently not had any major off-the court issues at UNM until now, from giving his side of the story.
So for now, Bragg has his No. 15 Lobo uniform back.
But if he wants to get his name back — at least to where it was when he picked up that degree in mid-December — a lot of questions need to be answered.
Let’s hope he gets the opportunity to do just that.
And let’s hope he takes it.
No word about the ordeal is simply no good for Bragg, who will forever more be deemed guilty by headline.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.