Smile Politely

Don’t spill it: Local sports media carrying water for Illini Football

Simon Cvijanovic is now a household name in Central Illinois. If you’ve been living under a rock since Sunday, the four-year offensive lineman for the Illini went on a rant on social media that can actually be described as epic. It’s Homeric in its length and scope with which he makes allegations against Illinois Football Head Coach Tim Beckman, Athletic Director Mike Thomas, a handful of medical professionals, and the University’s leadership.

If you’re completely in the dark about what happened, SBNation’s local contingent, The Champaign Room, does a really great job of collecting information in this story stream. I suggest going through it, but it’s not necessary for the purpose of this column.

You see, the Cvijanovic allegations brought about a lot of reactions in local, regional, and national media. Of course, anytime a Division 1 head coach has abuse allegations leveled against him there’s going to be coverage and a media circus. It’s inevitable. And inevitably, there will be a polarizing discussion on how something like this has or should have been handled — Did Beckman really do it? Was Cvijanovic just some disgruntled wimp? Why is this just coming out now? Who else was abused? Why didn’t anyone stop it from happening? etc.

Plenty of those questions are questions of the culture of toughness and brotherhood and family and camaraderie related to football. In college athletics, football especially, top down, everyone wants to be the toughest SOB in the room.

Those questions are also asked by the media to the organization. In this case it’s the athletic department and the University of Illinois. The public deserves answers from them.

While some media was looking for answers, Tim Beckman released two hokey statements.

Thanks, Tim.

Thomas had a teleconference on Monday in which media were allowed to ask questions. He sidestepped nearly everything but still went to bat for his program and his head coach. A lot of non-answers and a lot of hiding behind medical laws and records and then planning an “internal follow-up” in which none of the results would actually be released publicly.

Cvijanovic’s accusations and the company lines from Beckman and Thomas get different treatment from the media around here than they do almost anywhere else. And this, really, is where the heart of that polarizing discussion I talked about earlier is.

The most honest thing written or said on the radio locally by the media came all the way from the Decatur Herald & Review. Mark Tupper wrote a column with some of his thoughts about the vagueness of the case and suggested that the University needs to move quickly and investigate. He writes:

Find the truth. Share the truth. Act on the truth.

Unfortunately, local media isn’t all that interested in truth. Unfortunately, we’re living in a town of shills for the University. We’re looking at local Peter Kings, Gail Collinses, and Peggy Noonans without the income level and recognition, of course.

Harsh? Probably. But it’s embarrassing that the Gazoo and ESPNCU cover this story like they’re avoiding the Stone Men of Valyria. It’s as if this story coming to them is being talked about at a distance.

Bob Asmussen has been doing this a long time. He’s been around for scandals — the Jamar Smith/Brian Carlwell incident stands out. So, in his column on Monday, Asmussen spends a few hundred words sniffing the jocks of Beckman and Thomas without even mentioning one sentence about why exactly those two needed to speak publicly about a player’s accusations.

He does, however, ask the question of “how credible is Cvijanovic,” which is nice. I have that same question, Bob. But how credible is Tim Beckman? How credible is Mike Thomas? Do we dare dig in to their pasts and do some journalism?

Nah. Let’s go after Cvijanovic.

The Tay and J Show airs on the afternoons on ESPNCU 93.5 FM. Lon Tay and Jeremy Werner are the guys behind the show and they’ve gotten plenty of traffic after having Simon Cvijanovic on their show for an interview. Kudos to them for bringing on Cvijanovic. Prior to talking to Cvijanovic the two radio-zoo guys painted a picture of him as a disgruntled player. Already. They hadn’t talked to him yet.

The interview ended up being minutes of Cvijanovic ranting and trying to explain himself while Tay and Werner essentially judged him on how he’s decided to get this information out.

Another nugget from these two was when a texter asked how allegations without any corroboration is printable news. It’s a fair question and Werner said, “When you have these allegations… you can’t just sweep them under the rug.”

I totally agree with Werner. Which is why it’s absurd that they didn’t even discuss the allegations of Beckman attacking Kenny Knight in the fall of 2013 and the coverup that followed. Or Cvijanovic’s allegation that trainer Toby Harkins didn’t have a license to practice in the state of Illinois. Which Chicago sports columnist Dave Wischnowsky found a good 6 hours before the guys went on the air.

I’m not credentialed media but I heard about the Kenny Knight incident in 2013. How come this wasn’t even discussed? That’s a big allegation, and if I heard about it, there has to be something there. There are ways to talk about incidents that can’t be corroborated and can be alluded to. Smarmy, yet pretty damn good Chicago radio personality Dan Bernstein does it with his sources all of the time. But neither of these two guys even acknowledged that it was an accusation while I was listening. And if they did, it didn’t warrant enough to even say “I heard about it, investigated it, and nothing came of it.”

(By the way, Bernstein and Terry Boers’ handling of this topic yesterday is not too bad.)

If you’re media, if you’re a journalist, if you’re an influential person here, why are you not digging in on this story like people from out of town? Why are you not taking people to task in your columns and on the airwaves? How come when you talk about Mike Thomas’s and what he’s dealing with you empathize? Why don’t you rip him for not having a transparent investigation?

You, local sports media, should be chomping at the bit to blow Mike Thomas out of the water if he’s covering for Beckman and on the flip side you should be doing the exact same thing to Cvijanovic if he’s being untruthful. What should not happen right now is the smearing of Cvijanovic and the praise of how Tim Beckman and Mike Thomas are handling this with grace.

Because guess what?

The dam might be breaking, and you’re going to need a bigger rug.

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