Coach to talk to football team about headdresses at charity event
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois football coach Tim Beckman plans to talk with the entire team Wednesday after more than a dozen players recently adorned their heads with Native American headdresses for a charity event.
Described as a "strong man competition," the fundraiser was held Friday at Memorial Stadium and involved players performing various feats of strength, such as lifting barbells and hauling tires. Members of the team that won donned feathered headdresses and smeared orange and blue face paint on their bodies. Photos were posted on, and recently removed from, the team's Facebook page. Athletics spokesman Kent Brown confirmed the department removed the photos on Tuesday afternoon. The athletics department manages Facebook pages for each sport.
Beckman, who was not at Friday's event, told The News-Gazette he would speak with his players about their decision to dress in faux Native American garb when they meet on Wednesday.
"When dealing with the Chief and things involved in this program, in this university, we need to make sure we understand everything that's involved in that. When making decisions on this, we need to make sure we're making it in a way that's right for the university. Everything we do, we do for the university," Beckman said.
"It's something we have to continue to educate everybody about," Brown said of the school's history regarding Chief Illiniwek.
After decades of debate, the UI Board of Trustees officially voted in March 2007 to end Chief Illiniwek's dance and the use of the Chief or any Native American imagery for the university or its athletic programs. The NCAA had previously prohibited the UI from hosting postseason tournaments as long as it used Native American imagery.
"Our student athletes are students on campus, and they have their own opinions. They have the right to their own opinions," Brown said. However, he added, the players' recent use of Native American imagery "is something we're aware of and it's something they will be made more sensitive to."
Neither Beckman nor his coaches attended Friday's event.
"It was not anything the athletic department was involved in or in charge of," Beckman said.
The head coach was in Chicago attending a fundraiser for the Randy Walker Foundation. The amount of time coaches spend with student athletes during the summer is limited per NCAA rules.
"No one knew what they were going to do ahead of time. It was totally run and organized by the Uplifting Athletes club," Brown said.
It's the second year for the fundraiser, organized by the student group Uplifting Athletes. Much of the football team participated in the Friday night event. Players divided into teams to perform the challenges. They also were available after the event to meet with fans.
About $5,000 was raised for the Acoustic Neuroma Association of America. Acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor of the balance or hearing nerves, according to the association. Acoustic neuroma struck former Fighting Illini offensive lineman Andrew Carter. Carter is still a UI student and helps out with the football program, Beckman said.
"They're just trying to help out a former teammate and the community," he added.