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Promotional use of Illini photo sparks controversy

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 10:55 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — One of the lasting images from Illinois’ victory against No. 1 Indiana last week was captured in a photograph of coach John Groce lifting and hugging his shirtless young son in celebration.

The Illinois athletic department thought the photograph was so popular and moving, a school spokesman said, that the program decided to use it as a part of a Valentine’s Day email promotion of ticket sales for the Feb. 21 Penn State game.

The problem is some interpreted use of the photograph in a Valentine’s Day context offensive in light of the child sex abuse scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The caption under the photograph that was emailed Thursday to alumni and other supporters read, “No Matter Who’s Your Valentine Surprise Them With Tickets To The Game.”

Both Deadspin and a local sports radio show criticized the photograph choice. Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said the fans who received the promotion recognized it as an iconic moment from a memorable victory.

“That fact that people have interpreted it as anything other than that is unfortunate,” Brown said.

He added that a week ago, “this photo was lauded as a possible photo of the year candidate.” Several people from various departments looked over the promotion before it was dispersed, he said, and nobody raised concerns.

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