Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. November 9, 2021.

Editorial: A question for Hawks’ management. What’s more important? Championships or doing the right thing?

In May 2010, the Blackhawks, the Chicago hockey franchise once powered by the likes of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Chris Chelios and Denis Savard, were on the cusp of making it to the Stanley Cup finals — this time led by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Team executives called a meeting. A player had accused the team’s video coach, Brad Aldrich, of sexual assault.

At the meeting were then team President John McDonough, General Manager Stan Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville, and several other team executives. They were all informed of the player’s allegations. At the time, Chicago knew nothing about the meeting or its topic. Now it does, as does the rest of the country.

Bowman, who resigned last month, told the law firm hired to investigate the Hawks’ handling of the allegations that McDonough and Quenneville “made comments about the challenge of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals and a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs,” according to a report from the firm, Jenner & Block.

The focus was the playoffs. A championship. A silver trophy. It certainly wasn’t Kyle Beach, the player who would later say he felt “alone and dark,” not only because of what he says Aldrich did to him, but because of the callousness and indifference Hawks management showed in handling what had happened.

The Hawks did nothing for three weeks, sitting on the matter until after they had the Cup on their shelf. Then they allowed Aldrich to quietly resign. Management even permitted Aldrich’s name to be engraved along with the rest of the team on the Cup. Only now, after a $2 million fine from the National Hockey League and mountains of media attention on the scandal, has the team erased Aldrich’s name from the trophy.

Beach was 20 at the time. He told Canada’s The Sports Network Oct. 27 that the Hawks’ decision to let Aldrich stay on the team during the Stanley Cup run made him “sick to my stomach … It made me feel like I didn’t exist. It made me feel like I wasn’t important and … he was in the right and I was wrong.”

Beach is now 31 and plays pro hockey in Germany. After what happened, he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. “And I buried this for 10 years, 11 years,” he told TSN. “And it’s destroyed me from the inside out. And I want everybody to know in the sports world and in the world that you’re not alone. That if these things happen to you, you need to speak up.”

That compassion Beach shows for others is exactly what Hawks management lacked in an ugly, unfathomable way. But it’s not just the Hawks. The people who run professional sports in America — the owners, team presidents, general managers, coaches and commissioners — have very rarely been able to balance the mission of achieving championship glory with the mission of doing the right thing.

For years, the NFL ignored the mounting evidence of players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy — better known as CTE — a degenerative disease linked to concussions and repetitive head trauma. The league’s leadership only began instituting rule changes to make the game safer after the list of former players permanently debilitated from CTE became too large to ignore.

In 2014, Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice was caught on camera kicking, punching and spitting on his fiancée in an Atlantic City casino elevator. The NFL gave Rice a slap-on-the-wrist two-game suspension, and the Ravens kept him on the team. It was only after the video became widely publicized that the league suspended Rice indefinitely.

Professional sports in America cowers at the spotlight of scandal not because it exposes the lack of a moral compass, but because it threatens its cash flow — a revenue stream that pays for billion-dollar stadiums and multimillion-dollar contracts for players. What league commissioners, team owners and general managers don’t realize is that these scandals can erode the credibility of their sports to a point of no return. The less that fans trust in their beloved teams, the less they’ll watch — either in the stands or at home.

The Blackhawks are going through exactly this right now. Though the team is off to a miserable start on the ice, it’s a fair bet that the Hawks’ handling of the sexual assault allegations is also on the minds of fans.

That might explain why attendance is down this season, and why the Hawks’ consecutive sellout streak of 535 games at the United Center — a 13-year run — ended last month.

What will bring the fans back? It’s simple. Stop thinking solely about championships, and start thinking more about the players and their families — their welfare and their lives. A team that shows it cares when one of its own gets wronged will be just as beloved by fans as the team that has just notched a playoff win.

And when the championships do come, they’ll be so much sweeter to savor.

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Champaign News-Gazette. November 14, 2021.

Editorial: Strong economy boosts state’s spending plan

Illinois’ tax revenues have dramatically increased. But questions about the state’s fiscal future abound.

Whatever the reason, whoever gets the credit, Illinois got some good news on the state budget front last week.

A growing economy has produced strong increases in tax revenues — primarily sales and income taxes — that are reducing the deficit stress on Illinois’ 2021-2022 budget.

It’s not time to start dancing in the streets. Illinois remains in dire financial straits. Nonetheless, the $1.7 billion increase of projected revenue is welcome.

The state intends to use the revenue to pay more than $900 million in backlogged bills and deposit $300 million in the state’s depleted rainy day fund.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said remaining additional revenues will increase his projected budget surplus from $88 million to $406 million.

That’s a questionable assertion given the array of budget tricks available to the masters of the complicated budget process. But revenue increases are welcome under any circumstances.

Despite the positive impact on the current state budget, Illinois faces budget deficits going forward. Pritzker’s Office of Management and Budget projects deficits of more than $400 million in 2022-23, $820 million in 2023-24, $1.1 billion in 2024-25, $903 million in 2025-26 and $600 million in 2026-27.

Those numbers, which represent a load of fiscal misery, explain why the governor constantly is looking for new revenues. Given the upcoming election year, it’s hard to imagine Pritzker will ask the legislature to raise the state’s 4.95% state income tax.

But if he’s re-elected, Pritzker will almost certainly ask legislators for a big increase, probably from 4.95 to roughly 7%. If he does so, Pritzker wouldn’t be the first governor to take that approach.

Of course, the future is not set in stone. The economy could continue to grow, generating the kind of revenue increases on display in the current budget year.

Or Illinois’ economy and that of the nation could fall back to what it was at the height of the coronavirus-inspired economic lockdowns that devastated people and businesses.

Then there is the issue of rising prices, particularly for energy and food. The news was filled with reports last week of price inflation — up 6% compared to a year ago — that could wreak havoc on all concerned.

Given those uncertainties, it’s hard to put too much stock in long-term projections and better to focus on the here, now and soon-to-be.

The good economic news was driven in Illinois — and elsewhere — by massive federal spending approved by Congress in response to the coronavirus slowdown.

Congress handed out billions of dollars in stimulus checks to individuals as well as local and state governments. The question now is what the effect will be when those funds are no longer available.

Perhaps that’s why the state’s budget office is reluctant to announce that continued strong growth is far from certain until life in Illinois has returned to the pre-pandemic norms.

“Though the economy at-large has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, the labor market has had inconsistent recovery with only a few periods of meaningful job growth. A full recovery is uncertain until the pandemic ends,” it said.

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Arlington Heights Daily Herald. November 11, 2021.

Editorial: Why schools must get homeless students back

Their numbers dropped 21% in the first year of the pandemic. And that’s not a good thing.

Without the school bus and driver, who sees that a child frequently changes where he or she spends the night?

Without a teacher nearby, who notices if a student can’t stay awake during the day?

Without kids attending in person, who realizes that a child has left one school without enrolling in another?

Homeless students, to some extent, depend on trained school personnel to recognize the signs and symptoms of their precarious positions and steer them toward resources intended to help.

So when tallies of homeless students dropped sharply in the first year of the pandemic, experts surmised that the grim realities of COVID-19 hadn’t improved the lot of so many children and teens.

Rather, it seems likely those students simply exited the system.

“We’ve lost track of them, which is the worst thing that can happen because then they’re kind of falling through the cracks and not getting the services that they need,” Tom Bookler, a regional homeless liaison in the North Cook Intermediate Service Center, told Daily Herald staff writer Katlyn Smith.

At a time when school boards are beset by distractions over the imagined dangers of face masks, here’s an urgent pandemic-related issue that deserves some genuine public concern.

The “homeless” designation sweeps in students who live in hotels or camps; sleep on others’ couches, floors or spare beds; move between shelters or live out of cars.

Under the law, known as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, they can remain in their school even if the search for shelter takes them out of the attendance area and even if they lack the usual documentation involved in enrollment. The students qualify for transportation, meals, fee waivers and other support.

In 2018-19, 14,912 homeless students were in schools in suburban Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

During the pandemic’s seismic changes, the count was down by 21%. Some students might have lacked internet, equipment, space or supervision to concentrate on studies. They might have gotten jobs or cared for siblings. COVID-19 illness or death might have left their families in crisis.

We can’t successfully put the pandemic era behind us if we fail to gather these students back in.

Some schools consider it urgent, and more need to look at it that way. The Illinois State Board of Education is putting $38 million in federal funding into locating homeless kids and linking them to services.

If they’re successful, the number of homeless students might rise substantially next year. And that could be a good thing.

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