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Wisconsin basketball: strength coach Erik Helland resigns after using racial term in front of players

Helland announced his resignation on Thursday afternoon.

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NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday afternoon, news broke that Wisconsin Badgers basketball strength and conditioning coach Erik Helland was resigning from his post effective immediately. The University had been conducting an investigation in relation to him using a racist term in front of members of the team.

When the news first broke on Thursday it was thought that Kobe King, who left the team last week, was present but that is now known to not be true. Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal talked to King on the phone and King said that he was not there when Helland used the slur.

Here is the statement from the University on Helland’s resignation:

Erik Helland, director of strength and conditioning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, resigned his position Thursday afternoon. Helland had been the strength and conditioning coach for the Wisconsin men’s basketball program since 2013.

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.

Helland was placed on administrative leave on Monday and did not travel with the Badger men’s basketball team to Minnesota for the team’s game Wednesday.

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.

Helland was placed on administrative leave on Monday and did not travel with the team to Minneapolis for their awful loss to the Gophers on Wednesday. Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an excellent Twitter thread and subsequent article on the matter.

Helland, a native of Edgerton, described how the incident went down. “I was sharing a story from my NBA career and was explaining the intensity of a particular athlete,” Helland said. “I quoted that individual and in doing so repeated a repugnant word. In no way were these my words and I clearly stated my disapproval.” For those who don’t know, Helland worked in the NBA for over two decades, mostly with the Chicago Bulls.

Polzin talked to Helland on Thursday as well and says that he read from a prepared statement:

“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!”

According to Polzin, King was asked during an exit interview with UW associate athletic director for compliance Katie Smith and UW associate athletic director Justin Doherty what could be done to improve things around the team.

While King didn’t believe Helland was being malicious in his use of the racial epithet, he said he raised the issue so UW could help its staff members be more informed on controversial societal issues. However, King said he didn’t refer to Helland specifically at that time.

“To be honest, I didn’t want it to go public,” King said. “I like Coach E, he’s been good to me, I just thought it was concerning. It was awkward for me for a few days, it was uncomfortable to me.”

In his Instagram post, King thanked Helland as well. It appears that King’s Instagram account has been deleted as my intrepid reporting skills could not find it anymore. Thankfully, former B5Q editor Jake has it screen-shotted.

We will have more on this story if anything else comes up.