Terrence Shannon Jr's Return

Terrence Shannon Jr's Return

Before tonight's game, I want to discuss why I didn't tweet during the game on Sunday nor write about the game Sunday night. And why I've only been talking about subscriptions in the 60 hours since. I've had a few days to process my thoughts and I'll now attempt to put them on your screen.

I guess the best way to say it is that I'm still processing all of this. From a fan perspective – the perspective here that doesn't matter but a perspective nonetheless – there has been a lot to sort through. A University that suspended a player charged with rape and sexual battery was ordered by a judge to return him to the basketball court. That alone is enough to send me reeling.

In the last two days, I think my thoughts settled on two things here. One, the understanding of what happened with the injunction has been widely misunderstood, even by some national media. And two, I'm still struggling with the ovation Terrence Shannon received when he returned from the suspension. I'll address both topics one at a time.

Over the weekend, I went looking for national stories (and tweets) on this situation. I wanted to see how it was being discussed away from Champaign. The national media (at least the people I looked up) mostly stuck to the facts of the ruling on Friday. But under each tweet, especially after Sunday's game, you would see the same response from an opposing fan and then the same reaction from an Illini fan to that response:

"Illinois is playing someone who has pending rape charges - this program has zero integrity."

Followed by a random Illini fan responding to that with...

"Innocent until proven guilty, bro."

Neither comment, in my opinion, follows what has happened here.

We'll start with the second one first. He's not playing because the school decided to apply "innocent until proven guilty." In fact, the school decided that the charges were serious enough to warrant a suspension from the team even though the case has not yet been adjudicated in court. A federal judge then ruled that this suspension must be lifted. The harm to Shannon's future career was significant, the judge decided. And so she issued an injunction to restore him to the place where he could continue pursuing his professional basketball career.

That would be my response to the first comment listed there. I don't believe the retort to "how can Illinois play Shannon when he has pending rape charges?" should be "he's innocent until proven guilty". My response to the suggestion that the University has chosen to play their leading scorer because he will win more basketball games is that the University did decide to suspend him and a federal judge ordered that this must be reversed.

Opposing fans might see that as "well isn't that convenient", and I'd probably agree with them, but I'm not sure what other direction to go if those are the facts here (unless, I don't know, you want to claim that the federal judge is somehow an Illini fan who wanted to find a way to get the leading scorer back on the court - and that sounds so ridiculous that I hate even putting those words on your screen).

If you're the Purdue fan who has been all over my Twitter mentions about this and you want to claim "I'm sure Brad Underwood is in tears that he 'has to' play his leading scorer", I seriously get it. I understand how odd it is that this is the way the case has played out. But the facts here are simple. The University suspended him and removed him from the active roster. He hired attorneys, they took it to court, and a judge said that this would irreparably harm his future professional aspirations and ruled that he must be placed back in a position to continue that pursuit.

As a fan (and as a father and grandfather), that leaves me conflicted. I'm not saying that my reaction should be your reaction. I'm just saying that I've spent the last few days trying to work through my discomfort.

First off, if this were my son, and he were charged with these crimes, and he told me he did not do it, I would likely be overjoyed at an ovation when he played in the next game. I would view the entire case through the lens of parenthood. If he looks me in the eye and tells me this is completely false, I believe him and support him. And would likely have tears in my eyes when strangers supported him the same way.

But if I'm going to do that, I'm also obligated to play "if this were my daughter." And if this were my daughter, and she looked me in the eye and told me this happened to her, any standing ovation that player received upon entering a basketball game would feel like "we believe Terrence and not your daughter."

I understand that there are different angles to this. Family members of Terrence Shannon Jr. will be attending Illinois basketball games; I don't believe the accuser nor her family will be watching one second of Illinois basketball. I understand that any ovation in a courtroom (with both families sitting there) is massively different from an ovation in an arena.

I also understand that if you were in attendance on Sunday and you cheered for Terrence coming into the game, it likely came from a "we support you after a tumultuous three weeks" place and not a "we believe you and not her" place. I heard a few statements from a few individuals behind me which would suggest that wasn't how they viewed it, but I can't put that on you.

I'm just telling you how I felt, in the moment, sitting there, ten feet away from Terrence Shannon standing at the scorers table, ready to check in. I was very uncomfortable.

The cheers for his play on the court? I had no problem there. The loud ovation after his second-half dunk? I felt no internal conflict. The legal ruling for those actions came down last Friday. The court ruled the he must return to the team. He was on the basketball court making plays. Those plays were cheered.

The standing ovation for him entering the game? Internal conflict, at least for me. I hoped (and still hope) that the accuser's family is unaware that it took place. I would have preferred just... a typical ovation for an Illinois player entering a basketball game.

Again, I can see other sides here. Last Friday, my guest on the podcast (attorney Mitch Gilfillan), who isn't an Illini fan, said he hoped that the Illini crowd would give him a massive ovation on Sunday. As an attorney I'm sure he's seen defendants struggle under the weight of a case like this, and, guilty or innocent, in need of reassurance that there are people in his corner. I can totally see that.

All I can tell you is how I reacted. And my reaction is that the ovation was too much for me. Why? Because we're still in the unknown.

No one knows what happened here. No one knows the eventual outcome of the case. All we know is that there was an accusation, it led to criminal charges, and the case will be taken to court. The school suspended him and then a judge ruled that he must be reinstated to the team. He will now play out the season and then the case will play out in court.

For me, that's not cause for over-the-top cheering for him, that's not cause for reduced cheering for him, that's just cause for... cheering for him as one would cheer for the rest of the team. I have no internal conflict with how the school handled things because they made a decision and were overruled by a judge. I have no internal conflict with the coach putting him in the game because that was the purpose of the court's injunction (that his pursuit of a professional career not be interrupted by pending charges).

Where I did have an internal conflict: the standing ovation. I can understand it from an "if this were my son" angle but can't escape the "if this were my daughter" angle. Everyone cheering (or not cheering) had their own reason for their choice. I'm saying that I was uncomfortable with the moment (and unable to find words to tweet or write because of that discomfort).

These charges may be false or they may be true. We might review all of the public information available and come up with our own opinion on the case, but from my seat, I feel obligated to operate in the unknown between those two outcomes.

Within that unknown, he will now be playing basketball. I will pull for him and his team when those games take place.

Just likely with my fan volume turned down because of the severity of everything that has happened.