Families of former Illinois women’s basketball players send follow-up letter to University

Illinois’ head coach Matt Bollant during the game against Nebraska at State Farm Center on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014. The Illini lost 75-56.

By Declan Harty

Seven families of now-former Illinois women’s basketball players sent a follow-up letter Thursday to University President Timothy Killeen, Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Michael Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House, regarding the allegations of abuse and mistreatment from coaches in the program.

The letter, which The Daily Illini obtained from the families, raised concerns about the University’s internal review citing that the review’s handling has been “unacceptable as well as completely disrespectful to the student-athletes and their families.”

The letter came from the families of former Illinois players Jacqui Grant, Taylor Gleason, Taylor Tuck, Amarah Coleman, Alexis Smith, senior Nia Oden and Sarah Livingston. Livingston transferred to the University of Southern California last year to play volleyball.

“All of our families are extremely proud of our daughters and each other’s daughters during these trying and challenging times,” read the email that was adjoined with the letter. “They are truly the ones who are ‘tough enough’ in the face of adults who ridiculed and belittled them for not being ‘tough enough.’ We are most proud of our daughters.”

The email, which was addressed to Killeen, and the letter raised concerns that the University has not issued an apology to the families and players.

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“How then can it be, then, that in the past six weeks since this nightmare has come to light exposing a culture of abuse and racism in the women’s basketball program that not one person of authority at the University of Illinois has come close to issuing an apology?” the email read. “Not even a marginal apology ‘that if these events did occur, we are truly sorry for the people affected.’ Nothing. Not a word.”

When asked for a statement on the letter and email, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler wrote in an “the health and well-being of our student-athletes is our number one priority.”

Kaler said that the allegations regarding sports medicine are still ongoing, and are being reviewed by Chicago-based law firm, Franczek Radelet, which is also looking into allegations made by former Illinois football player Simon Cvijanovic.

“A rush to judgment before that investigative work is completed is premature,” the statement read.

The email addressed concerns about how Wise and Athletic Director Mike Thomas have handled the situation stating that they “have truly forgotten who their customers are.”

“Their profound arrogance in the community and in the media do nothing to help the integrity and reputation of the University of Illinois let alone provide any type of reassurance to the player athletes and their families,” the email read.

The letter follows responses made by Thomas on Tuesday regarding the initial reports of abuse and mistreatment toward players from head coach Matt Bollant and now-former associate head coach Mike Divilbiss.

Thomas said the athletic department takes “pride and integrity in our program so we take any allegations to the contrary very seriously. … Student-athlete well-being, the health and safety of our student-athletes is primary to our mission.”

Robin Kaler, campus spokeswoman, said the internal review was conducted by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Access and Academic Human Resources and the offices determined no NCAA violations or violation of University policy or applicable law took place.

However, after the review was conducted, it was determined that Divilbiss and the University would part ways with the “current goals and objectives of DIA and the women’s basketball program” in mind, according to a Monday press release from the University’s Public Affairs’ Office.

The initial reports came from letters addressed to Chancellor Wise and Thomas in late April. The letters were from the families of Jacqui Grant, who has transferred to DePaul; Taylor Gleason, who has transferred to Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; and Taylor Tuck, who just graduated from the University.

The email ended with a plea that the University “keep in mind that these young women; past, present and current students at the University of Illinois did nothing wrong. They are exemplary student-athletes who excelled in their studies and excelled in their sport.”

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