Opinion | Show appreciation for unpaid student-athletes

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Opinion | Show appreciation for unpaid student-athletes

Members of the Orange Krush hold up the Orange Krush Edition of The Daily Illini before the game against Indiana at State Farm Center on March 7. Columnist Tommy asserts student-athletes deserve support for their dedication.

Members of the Orange Krush hold up the Orange Krush Edition of The Daily Illini before the game against Indiana at State Farm Center on March 7. Columnist Tommy asserts student-athletes deserve support for their dedication.

The daily illini File Photo

Members of the Orange Krush hold up the Orange Krush Edition of The Daily Illini before the game against Indiana at State Farm Center on March 7. Columnist Tommy asserts student-athletes deserve support for their dedication.

The daily illini File Photo

The daily illini File Photo

Members of the Orange Krush hold up the Orange Krush Edition of The Daily Illini before the game against Indiana at State Farm Center on March 7. Columnist Tommy asserts student-athletes deserve support for their dedication.

By Tommy Block, Senior Columnist

Boy, oh boy, is it ever an exciting time to be an Illini basketball fan! A 14–5, 6–2 record! A No. 21 ranking! A five-game winning streak, the best in the Big Ten conference!

Do we have a shot at the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013? I don’t know the logistics of the game well enough to tell, but just the fact that the idea has crossed my mind is promising!

It’s easy to get caught up in the middle of a moment like this, even for somebody who’s lukewarm about sports. Keep in mind, however, that whether or not their season is hot, our student-athletes are out on the court working their hardest to prove themselves to our Big Ten rivals. Their energy mirrors the effort we all put into our midterms, our student-led organizations and our internships.

Like the rest of us, our athletes do everything they can to represent our student body in a positive light (at least when they aren’t stepping on people), and if they have our backs, we should have theirs.

Not that the Illini have any trouble collecting victories on their own. The men’s basketball team might be hitting their stride, but there’s been plenty to cheer for over the past year or two. The volleyball team made it to the NCAA Final Four back in 2018. Women’s cross-country took home the NCAA Regional Championship title last fall. Most recently, the football team faced off against the California Golden Bears in Illinois’ first bowl game in five years.

Winning takes a lot of work. What’s in it for our Illini? Certainly not a paycheck, although a bill which would allow student-athletes to get paid for uses of their likeness has recently made its way to the Illinois Senate (currently, California is the only state to have passed a similar bill). 

Athletes can’t support themselves or their families without a salary, so naturally, they shouldn’t be expected to turn in reliable performances for a program that capitalizes on talent and saves the profit for itself. And yet, here the Illini are with a 14–5, 6–2 record. It would be a kind gesture if that record was half as good.

We can question the ethics of college athletics until our faces turn blue. The best thing we can do until the right legislation gets passed is to show these student-athletes our appreciation for their commitment. Fill the bleachers. Do the cheers. Embrace your school spirit. 

We students are not only training to become professionals, but also slowly learning what qualities and behaviors will serve us well beyond graduation. No one would ask you to shoot a free throw in an interview, but anyone who practices enough to get good at it surely has the right mindset.

Tommy is a senior in Engineering.

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