September 2009 Archives

Here's how the sportswriting world, and journalism, have changed during my career. Illinois has two marquee players: quarterback Juice Williams and receiver Arrelious ``Rejus'' Benn. Juice got hurt on the first play against Illinois State Saturday, and Benn failed to catch at least one pass for the first time in his college career. This is pretty significant stuff to me, even if Juice's injury clearly was minor.
And yet, they were not made available after the game, so we were unable to talk to them. I don't know whose decision this was, coach Zook or his media relations staff. And while something about it didn't seem right, I was relieved, in a way. Because I had to file a story and notes 37 minutes later, including a five- to 10- minute trip back to the pressbox, and had no time to wait, or waste.
It was yet another reminder of how the business has changed, and how the relationships between media and athletes have changed. There's so much more media now, and we get so much less real reporting done because of adversarial concerns and micro-managing.
In the old days, we just went into the locker room. And far from being worried about saying the wrong thing, the athletes seemed interested in letting people know what was on their minds. I looked forward to talking to Bears such as Dan Hampton and Jimbo Covert after games, and I think they did, too.
And even in college, on my Notre Dame beat, you could go in the locker room, and the players seemed to understand that the spotlight came with responsibility. Even in the dark days, when Gerry Faust's coaching career was fraught with tough losses, the players answered questions. I always figured that helped prepare players for life after college, whether they were going to play pro football or deal with tough situations in other parts of their life. Many Irish players I covered--people like Steve Beuerlein, Allen PInkett, Tim Brown--dealt with some hard questions, and they turned out all right. Maybe talking to us helped. I can't imagine that it hurt.
Of course, the lockerrooms are closed by virtually all the college teams I encounter these days, with a few exceptions. And it makes sportswriting more difficult and less difficult at the same time. It's harder to get questions answered. But there's less work because there are fewer interview opportunities. And if the product suffers, the office tends to want our stories sooner and shorter, anyway.
In a way, I understand why schools and teams fret about access and spin-control. They're faced with more and more media, who are less and less trust-worthy. And they're more interested in TV and radio sound bites, which tend to avoid controversy. I just can't help but think our lives were richer when we trusted each other more, and didn't take ourselves so seriously. It certainly was a lot more fun and interesting.
Hope you're feeling better, Juice. And sorry about your streak ending, Rejus. But as both of you often mention, it's all about the win. Enjoy it.


Two players, tailback Mikel Leshoure and defensive back Ashante Williams, have been given one-game suspension for violating team rules, coach Ron Zook said Tuesday. Obviously unhappy with the play of his receivers, notably Jeff Cumberland and A.J. Jenkins, who both made critical mistakes vs. Missouri, Zook also said sophomore wideouts Cordale Scott and Fred Sykes, and junior Chris James will have expanded roles. Cumberland and Jenkins will continue to have opportunities, though.
Zook also said he'll look at shaking up his secondary, with true freshmen Walter Aikens and Terry Hawthorne, a converted receiver, getting chances at safety after Donsay Hardeman's tough game vs. Missouri. In addition, cornerback Dere Hicks could see time at nickelback as the Illini try to bounce back from their troubling 37-9 loss to Mizzou.
``I don't want to push the panic button, but we have to play better,'' Zook said. ``We understand that the Illini Nation's upset, and they should be. I don't blame them. They deserve better.''

Three true freshmen head the list of first-year Illini who are most likely to play: Cornerback Terry Hawthorne, tailback Justin Green and defensive end Michael Buchanan. Hawthorne, Ron Zook's top 2009 recruit, has moved over from wide receiver, a position he's likely to return to after this season. Green has impressed coaches with  a burst that makes him a factor even though Illinois has four capable veterans at running back.
Other freshmen probably will take off their red shirts as the season progresses, out of necessity and because they show they can help. But Zook knows players benefit greatly from using a redshirt year to develop.
``Hopefully, that list [of true freshmen who play immediately] is smaller than it's been since we got here,'' the coach said.


About the blogger

Herb Gould started with the Sun-Times in 1977 and has covered several teams, including the Blackhawks. He is a long-time beat reporter covering the Fighting Illini and the Big Ten for the Sun-Times.

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