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University of Illinois football player charged in alleged hate crime
Posted July 6, 2011
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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A University of Illinois football player was arrested in the early morning hours of July 4 following an attack that police say may have been motivated by the victims' sexual orientation—and the victims weighed about half as much as the 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive lineman.

Chris Jones, 20, a freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., faces an aggravated battery charge, but has not yet entered a plea after an initial court appearance Tuesday, police and court officials said. Still, Illinois football coach Ron Zook has suspended Jones, arrested outside a Champaign bar.

Athletic department spokesman Kent Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times that Zook has not issued a statement on Jones' situation, but has suspended him indefinitely until the situation is resolved. Zook was unavailable for comment. Brown said Zook was in Florida, where his daughter is getting married this weekend.

Jones was arrested outside Kam's, a campus bar, after two men reported that he punched them, said Champaign police Deputy Chief Troy Daniels. The men said Jones had been in a car that had just driven by them.

"The occupants of the vehicle were calling out slurs based on their sexual orientation," Daniels told the Associated Press, explaining that the men said they were a couple.

The men—a 19-year-old who stands 5-9 and weighs about 140 pounds, and a 28-year-old who is 5-9 and weighs about 165 pounds—had minor facial injuries, Daniels said.

Jones told police he was retaliating for an attack by the men earlier in the week, Daniels said. Jones is being held on $100,000 bond.

Jones won't be charged with committing a hate crime in spite of the alleged circumstances because aggravated battery carries a longer possible sentence—two to five years as opposed to one to three—according to Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz.

"There is evidence to suggest that the victims' sexual orientation was the basis for the battery," Rietz told the Associated Press, "but we are better off charging it as aggravated battery."

Jones pleaded guilty in July, 2010, to cocaine possession and was sentenced to 60 days of unsupervised probation.

"I wonder what impact this situation could, or might, have on athletes who are in the closet, especially at the University of Illinois, and considering coming out," said Brian Walker of Chicago, a former Division II football player who is openly gay.

"For something like this to allegedly happen at a well-known Big Ten university, that's very sad. Perhaps schools need to have more diversity training, especially for athletes who are representing a school and/or a team."

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