Karl Malone statue at Louisiana Tech rekindles discussion of athlete’s past sexual misconduct
RUSTON — In Louisiana Tech University’s champions plaza, six statues of its athletic greats sit together, immortalized in shining brass. Alongside these Louisiana legends such as Kim Mulkey and Terry Bradshaw is a statue of Karl Malone, who has a troubling history of sexual misconduct.
Louisiana Tech unveiled the statues at a ceremony Wednesday night at which the six athletes and their families were honored. The statues are meant to honor athletes who were given the highest honors in their respective sports. Other athletes honored include football standouts Fred Dean and Willie Roaf and basketball star Teresa Weatherspoon.
Before Malone began his storied two-decade career in the NBA, he played at Louisiana Tech, where, as a 20-year-old college sophomore, he impregnated then 13-year-old Gloria Bell.
Malone initially denied paternity but has since reconciled with his son, Demetress Bell, himself a former professional athlete who played five seasons in the NFL. Bell, alongside Malone’s six other children, appeared at his side at the ceremony, according to The Advocate.
Malone was never charged with statutory rape for his sexual relationship with a minor, though his paternity of Demetress Bell was determined in court.
The decision to honor Malone comes at a time when college athletics is finally beginning to grapple with longstanding sexual abuse issues that have plagued numerous programs.
The statue has caused outrage for many in the Louisiana Tech community.
“I wonder what message the university believes it sends to our students when it installs a statue on our campus of a wealthy and famous man who sexually abused a minor when he was a star athlete,” history professor Drew McKevitt said.
Such scandals have created turmoil in college athletics in Louisiana, where LSU is still coming to terms with the implications of a scandal that ended the career of former football coach Les Miles. More recently, Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker is soon to be fired for allegedly sexually harassing a prominent anti-harassment advocate.
The increased campus scrutiny has brought increased attention to federal Title IX law, which covers sex-based discrimination.
State Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, who has been outspoken about sexual assault in the wake of Louisiana’s Title IX scandals, also condemned the statue.
“Honoring someone as an athletic hero when that person knowingly used their fame and status to take advantage of a child is always wrong,” Freeman said.
When asked if it was appropriate to honor Malone in light of his sexual history, Louisiana Tech President Les Guice declined to comment. Two other administrators did not respond to the same question directly, instead highlighting Malone’s athletic achievements.
“The purpose of today’s event is to honor the legacy of six important Louisiana Tech athletes,” Athletic Director Eric Wood said.
“The university is recognizing former student athletes who have been inducted into the highest professional halls of fame,” said Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System that includes Louisiana Tech.
Brian Hanlon, the artist who created the statue, said he tasks his attorney with digging deep into the background of his subjects, and the lawyer found no evidence of Malone’s sexual misconduct.
“People are complex, and they have pasts. And when they become famous, they’re under a microscope,” Hanlon said. “So there’s always haters.”
Tom Soto, a Louisiana Tech spokesperson, said the statues were entirely funded by private donations.