Rather than engage in a healthy and intelligent debate on any and all issues that impact on high school sports in Illinois in general and University of Illinois sports in particular, Illiniflight33 and his equally narrow-minded pals choose to hide behind their anonymous name tags, ignore the facts and try to prohibit freedom of speech to anyone who dares to disagree with them.
Here is a sampling of Illiniflight33's rantings before and after I was invited to appear on Boz and Mr. G's "We're loyal to you Illinois" radio talk show on Monday:
"Zero listenership/readership means he goes away."
"His information has been mostly incorrect for 30 years."
"When you let the Sun-Times know that Bell has found his mark, they are more likely to keep him on."
"Best way to get rid of that (bleep) is to ignore him."
"If Illinois fans went a couple of months without listening/reading or clinking on anything Bell-related, I bet dollars to donuts one of two things would happen--(1) he would be pushed out to pasture or (2) Bell would start writing favorable crap about us."
"Seriously, this Buckner thing is another in a long list of BS articles Bell throws out there to suggest that Champaign-Urbana is a racist town or that Champaign-Urbana is somehow not a good place to develop a player."
Illiniflight33 probably denies the Holocaust, too.
Since he has absolutely no grasp of the facts and apparently chooses to ignore the even when they slap him in the face, I'll continue my career-long mission to educate him and others of his clan who badly need it.
First, I never used the word "racist" to describe the Quinn Buckner incident of 1972, then Illini coach Harv Schmidt or Champaign-Urbana.
That was Illiniflight33's way of inflaming an issue that was settled by then Illinois athletic director Cecil Coleman. It had everything to do, among other things, with Schmidt's ouster in 1974. It wasn't publicized at the time but its ramifications had a negative impact on the program for years, just as its non-presence in the Chicago Public League had a negative impact until Tony Yates showed up.
It wasn't the first time that Schmidt had ignored the best player in the state. In 1968, Collinsville's Tom Parker was being heavily recruited by Kentucky and Kansas. He hadn't heard from Illinois but told me that he was interested in talking to Schmidt.
I was working at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat at the time and Parker was our player of the year. Before the 1968 state tournament, I met with Schmidt and informed him about Parker's interest. To my knowledge, Schmidt never made an effort.
Attempts to muzzle me or have me fired because I don't goose-step to the "you're either for us or against us" philosophy that is rampant in many college programs and professional teams and haven't caved in to their attempts to manipulate and intimidate the media have fallen on deaf ears.
They want cheerleaders, not objective journalists, and even in these difficult economic times for the publishing industry editors still cling to their credibility and integrity and the canons of good journalism. Illiniflight33 can always tune into Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity if he wants to hear only one slant on the news.
Some critics launched a letter-writing campaign to get me fired after I wrote the award-winning story on the Efrem Winters' grade-changing scandal in 1983. It was factual and the Chicago Board of Education confirmed my findings. But even though I never implicated Illinois in the story -- Lou Henson called the disgraced and demoted King principal "one of the great educators in Illinois" and even Jack Brickhouse tried to come to Illinois' defense -- it proved very embarrassing to Illinois. My editors laughed at the letters.
I must have been doing something right over the last 50 years. I was inducted into the prestigious Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame upon my retirement from full-time service in 2001. And I was inducted into the Illini Media's inaugural Hall of Fame in 2006. I guess they weren't listening to Illiniflight33.
Secondly, let's try to understand this: I cover high school sports. I am not a beat writer for Illinois, Notre Dame, Michigan or any college. Recruiting has been a spinoff of high school sports coverage since Buckner's recruiting (by John Wooden and Bob Knight) in 1972. When I sensed recruiting was going to become an important read -- before the Internet, Rivals, Scout and ESPNU -- I did research and discovered Tom Lemming (football) and Bob Gibbons and Van Coleman (basketball) to provide me with expert information. If you can think of anyone who is better qualified to report on recruiting, let me know.
Let's be honest and objective and reasonable and rational and impartial, all words foreign to Illiniflight33's vocabulary. Everything to do with Illinois sports hasn't been peaches and cream over the years -- from the slush fund of the 1960s to Schmidt in the 1970s to Winters, Mike White/Neale Stoner and Deon Thomas in the 1980s.
I was directly involved in covering some of those stories. I even gave a deposition in the Thomas case. Was I supposed to ignore them because a few critics perceived them as negative? I'm anti-Illinois because I wrote the truth that some people didn't want to hear?
On the other hand, Illiniflight33 has never acknowledged all of the positive articles I have written. Most recently, full-page Sunday stories after interviews with Ron Zook, Brandon Paul and Jereme Richmond, a Q&A with Jerrance Howard and a story on East St. Louis' Terry Hawthorne, predicting stardom for the future Illini football player after seeing him in the Class 7A semifinal. Hey, how about the highest evaluation of Illinois' 2006, 2007 and 2008 football recruiting classes of any rating service?
Of course, Illiniflight33 didn't comment on those articles. But he was quick to criticize a recent article in which I had interviewed many of the top football prospects in the Chicago area and learned that none of them might sign with Illinois. Some flat out said they weren't interested or weren't seriously considering Illinois while others said Illinois was in the mix. But nobody, not even Corey Cooper, who committed to Illinois as a sophomore but continues to visit other schools and accumulate more offers, said they were rock solid for the Illini.
So what was I supposed to do? Ignore the story because all of them weren't packing for Champaign and singing "Oskee-Wow-Wow?" Only write a story if all of them want to go to Illinois? I assure you, I was going to write whatever they said without regard to what Illiniflight33 and his pals wanted to hear. That is how I have done my job for 50 years and I won't change now.
I'm sure Illiniflight33 was pleased last week when Orange and Blue, the Illini Website that is run by Rivals and has close ties to Illinois sports, deleted a big story by a senior Rivals staff writer that rated the top 50 football coaches in the country. They story didn't list Ron Zook at all (Florida's Urban Meyer was rated No. 1) and it was pulled off the Orange and Blue Website within a few hours.
That's the kind of journalism that Illiniflight33 subscribes to. Fortunately, the newspapers I have worked for -- from the Champaign-Urbana Courier to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat to the Chicago Daily News to the Chicago Sun-Times -- never listened to the sound of his jack boots.