LOS ANGELES — A high-level person in the USC athletics department who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Wednesday that a number of department officials spoke to senior cornerback Josh Shaw about his rescue story and expressed skepticism about it.
The person, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Shaw was told the news media were unlikely to buy his story.
Members of the USC sports information department and other athletic department officials have spent hours talking to Shaw and others in an attempt to vet the story.
Eventually, because they could find nothing to disprove Shaw's story, because he never changed his story and because he has built a lot of goodwill as an upstanding citizen who was chosen as a team captain, the athletic department decided to issue a news release chronicling the tale of Shaw saving his nephew from drowning.
"Maybe we were duped. Maybe not. We'll see," the person said.
On Wednesday, coach Steve Sarkisian said the school will continue to gather information.
"It's pretty clear there are quite a few conflicting stories out there," Sarkisian said following a Trojans practice. "Any information we've been provided up to this point we've pushed along to campus authorities. We're really going to let it play out in their hands at this point. Quite honestly, we're in somewhat of a holding pattern. ... Anything I do get that I can provide you guys, I will. Believe me, I will."
Shaw, a team captain, told USC's athletics web site that he injured himself jumping from a second-floor apartment balcony to the concrete below to rescue his seven-year-old nephew, who "cannot swim" and was in a pool "in distress without help nearby" on Saturday.
Reports questioning the authenticity of the tale followed the story's release, however. USC announced Tuesday that it was investigating.
"In this day and age of college football and head coach's responsibility, I'd be foolish to not push everything up the ladder," Sarkisian said. "We learned that a few years ago with a couple of other high-profile coaches. So everything I've ever done, when things come across my desk is to push them to campus authorities and let them do their due diligence. Then when things come back to me, I can comment on them. Until then, I don't really have much to say about it."
Sarkisian said he is trying to turn his attention back to the field.
"My main focus is on going out and playing a great football game Saturday (vs. Fresno State)," Sarkisian said. "As much as we have the situation with Josh, I've got another 104 football players in that locker room that I have to get prepared to play. That's been the main focus."
As for whether the investigation is a distraction, Sarkisian said, "I don't worry about it."
"We get into a preparation mode," he said. "Tuesday, Wednesday and we've got jobs to do all the way through. Same thing with the team. We haven't spent much time on it at all, quite honestly. We've put in too much work over the last nine months to let an hour or two of social media and internet reports distract us from being a great football team. If it does, that's not a great sign for us moving forward. We have to be strong enough to handle adversity whether it's on the football field or off the field and continue to hang together and be together and go out and play great football."