Big Ten

Ex-Illini women's basketball players sue, alleging racial hostility


Ex-Illini women's basketball players sue, alleging racial hostility

The firestorm surrounding several Illinois athletics programs isn't calming.

Wednesday, seven former women's basketball players filed a lawsuit against the university, with athletics director Mike Thomas, head women's basketball coach Matt Bollant, former assistant women's basketball coach Mike Divilbiss and the university's board of trustees named as defendants.

Detailed in a report by the Champaign News-Gazette, the seven former players — Amarah Coleman, Taylor Gleason, Jacqui Grant, Sarah Livingston, Nia Oden, Alexis Smith and Taylor Tuck — claim that the coaching staff created a racially hostile environment, segregating black and white players and treating players of different races in different manners. The players allege that coaches held segregated practices, prohibited black and white players from rooming together on road trips, frequently called black opponents unintelligent and undisciplined and disciplined black players more severely than white players.

The lawsuit claims the coaching staff violated the Federal Civil Rights Act and seeks $10 million in damages.

[MORE BIG TEN: Mike Thomas addresses firestorm surrounding Illini athletics]

The lawsuit is the most recent step in the ongoing saga surrounding the program. Families of former players sent letters to the university alleging the inappropriate behavior of the coaching staff in April, prompting an internal investigation. But that investigation found that no laws, NCAA rules or university policies were violated. More communication from the players and their families led to the university asking for an external review of that internal investigation.

University chancellor Phyllis Wise made this statement expressing her disappointment in the lawsuit:

"The external review is continuing, so it is disappointing that legal action has preceded the findings. We will review the lawsuit and determine an appropriate response. I cannot stress enough that any time we learn that a student feels the experience at Illinois isn't excellent, we take those concerns seriously. We intended that through the external review process the student-athletes and their families would help us better understand their concerns and perceptions.

"As we await the results of the review, athletic director Mike Thomas has already added staff to closely monitor team activities and has implemented additional ways for student-athletes to report any concerns they have. As this situations has demonstrated, even though our avenues for reporting concerns match or exceed those of most of our peers, we will continue to explore ways for students to connect with a university staff member to address them promptly and constructively."

The women's basketball program isn't the only program embroiled in controversy inside the Illinois athletics department. Simon Cvijanovic, a former offensive lineman, gained significant attention following social-media allegations directed toward head football coach Tim Beckman that claimed him to be an abusive bully who lies about players' injuries, forces players to play injured, demonizes injured players and threatens to take players' scholarships away.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini AD announces steps to better serve student-athletes]

Plus, this is not the first lawsuit brought against the university by a former student-athlete this summer. Former Illinois soccer player Casey Conine filed a lawsuit alleging mishandling of treatment for a concussion by the medical staff.

Thomas has made several comments since allegations toward the football and women's basketball programs surfaced over the last few months, supporting his coaches and asking people to reserve judgment until investigations are completed. In addition to the external review of the internal investigation into the women's basketball program, there is an ongoing independent investigation into the claims made regarding the football program.

Thomas' office announced a series of steps within the athletics department to better serve student-athletes, including better informing coaches on how to behave, making it easier for student-athletes to talk about problems involving their coaches and creating positions to oversee and review the athletics department and its treatment of student-athletes.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately


Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal


Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.