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Tim Beckman saga shows importance of student-athlete voice

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Tim Beckman saga shows importance of student-athlete voice

Simon Cvijanovic wanted his voice and the voices of other student-athletes to be heard. His voice was heard, and after a few months, Tim Beckman — who Cvijanovic accused of being an abusive bully — was fired for being an abusive bully.

Cvijanovic sparked this whole situation back in May, when he sent off a long string of tweets alleging that Beckman, the now-former head football coach at the University of Illinois, treated his players horribly, forcing them to play injured, demonizing those who were injured and threatening to take away scholarships.

That launched an independent investigation at Illinois, and after a few months, the initial findings of that investigation supported those allegations and led athletics director Mike Thomas to dismiss Beckman on Friday. Thomas said in a press release that Beckman made efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite their injuries. Initial findings also included Beckman mistreating players in regards to their scholarship status.

Turns out Cvijanovic was right.

[MORE BIG TEN: Mistreatment of players, not record, did in Illini's Beckman]

But the more important thing than Cvijanovic getting Beckman fired — which was a very good thing, according to these findings — is that he’s shown how meaningful and important a student-athlete’s voice is. And he’s shown how badly it needs to be heard.

It shouldn’t surprise that a man with complete control over a multi-million-dollar college football program making a multi-million-dollar salary holding the fate of college-aged kids in his hands would be prone to this type of behavior. That’s not to say all or most college football coaches are behaving like this, but Beckman is surely not the first.

But maybe even a bigger problem than a university and the NCAA as a whole allowing coaches to behave this way and still keep their multi-million-dollar jobs is that there hasn’t been an easy avenue for student-athletes to speak out against those coaches. They were — and to a large extent still are — powerless.

Maybe it's the shifting landscape, maybe it's simply the power of social media, but Cvijanovic and his vindication have taken a step toward changing that powerless state.

[MORE BIG TEN: With Beckman fired, what does future hold for Illini AD Mike Thomas?]

Here was a football coach of a Power 5 conference program wielding complete control over the well-being and future well-being of his players. Beckman's actions not only affected the short- and long-term health of student-athletes, it affected their short- and long-terms lives. The difference between attaining a college education and not makes a world of difference. Being removed from scholarship could prevent student-athletes from completing that degree, dramatically changing the outcome of their lives.

Obviously, those are the things that student-athletes should have a say in. Those are the destinies that the student-athletes should be able to control. Decisions involving long-term health and future livelihood should not be made by someone else. Hopefully this situation at Illinois can serve as Exhibit A to the NCAA when it comes to giving student-athletes a greater voice.

To Thomas’ credit, he has announced steps to improve this very issue. He’s announced the establishment of various avenues that will allow student-athletes to better bypass their coaches and report to administrators any concerns they have. Whether this ends up helping remains to be seen.

But if the Beckman situation has brought one big lesson, it’s the impact that can be made when student-athletes are given a voice, how much better they can make their own lives in the short and long term. As the fight for a seat at the table — not the fight for a piece of the financial pie, a discussion for a different day — continues, let the Illinois situation serve as an example of both the need and the results when student-athletes get to speak up and have a say in the world of college athletics.

That fight continues:

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

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.