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When the Dam Breaks

Someone crying has always been hard for me to take. Only in the most extreme circumstances -- when I suspect the tears of being faked, or that the person is deserving of them -- has my reaction been anything but icy toward the person bearing the tears. In fact, the presence of a crying person has often snapped me out of any foul mood I may have borne toward them (or the situation). Whether or not this is a proper reaction to such events is debatable, nevertheless it is my observed response. This occurred just a few days ago, in fact.

It's no secret to anyone who follows college sports that the Illinois Men's Basketball Team has been in freefall for weeks. Losing almost of their recently played games, the team and Coach Weber have been under considerable scrutiny by the media, the Champaign-Urbana community, and the university's new athletic director. The pressure got to them this past Saturday in Nebraska, and they lost by over 20 points to the worst team in the Big 10 Conference. Player Meyers Leonard exited the game and was seen crying on the bench. It was, to put it mildly, a low point for the team.

While I've not been one to shy away from criticizing this year's team, something happened when I saw Leonard sobbing on the bench. Much of the cynicsm of an armchair Illini fan & critic was drained away, and I immediately felt great empathy for what these folks must be going through, Leonard especially. These players are barely more than kids, and every week for months on end they practice, work out, listen to their coach, talk with the media, travel all over the Midwest, play games under a microscope, get picked apart by the public and the media and, to top it all off, are expected to do all of that extremely well and go to school full-time. Of course, this doesn't even touch their private and personal lives.

I don't know how much of the aforementioned obligations affected the Illini team last Saturday in Nebraska, but however much it was, I think we can cut them a little slack. Lest we forget, they're human beings. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes more bad than good, but then that's true of us all. They laugh, and they cry. And that's okay. So for those who were wanting to make a big deal about Meyers Leonard's breakdown on the bench, and the players purportedly crying in the locker room, I ask: What's the big deal? It's not like it happens everyday, and it's not like showing some emotion is a bad thing.

Tonight, Illinois Men's Basketball is yet again on the road. They'll be playing against a Top 10-ranked team, Ohio State, and all eyes will be upon them. I don't know how they do it. Of course, Illinois beat Ohio State in a home game in January, and -- hear me out -- I have a feeling they may beat them again tonight. We'll see. But sometimes we need to be there for folks when they're down the most. That's the mark of when true fan loyalty is tested. And, heck, I'm not even that into sports.


  1. Very well written Matt. I know nothing about this team but I felt empathy for all of the college players after reading this.


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