Schuckman: Truth allows Holzgrafe to bring bright smile, effervescent personality back to life


Brian Holzgrafe, right, and his wife, Becky, take a selfie outside the U.S. Courthouse in Springfield, Ill., on the day he won his defamation lawsuit against former Quincy University student-athlete Daniel Lozier. | Submitted photo

QUINCY — The sideways glances. The whispers. The feeling of being judged. The general uneasiness of being in public and knowing your character is in question.

Brian Holzgrafe felt it all. For too long. Far too often. For no fault of his own.

That’s what a false accusation does to a person.

It tears them down to their core. They have to fight for their name and your respect in a way very few of us understand, even more so when the accusations are made public and become headlines.

We empathize. We show support. But we don’t know what it’s like to live with a stigma you can’t shake, the kind that rattles around in your head when all around you goes silent and follows you no matter how fast you try to run away from it.

Holzgrafe knows that life. For the better part of the last seven years, he lived it.

Last Thursday, the former Quincy University tennis coach left that life behind.

With that, we get to see his gregarious personality and beaming smile in full bloom again.

“I feel like I have a voice again,” Holzgrafe said.

In the U.S. Courthouse in Springfield, Holzgrafe won his defamation lawsuit against Daniel Lozier, the former QU tennis player who levied false accusations of misconduct against Holzgrafe during a Title IX investigation conducted by the school in 2017.

The financial windfall of the case — a jury awarded Holzgrafe more than $2.9 millions in damages — is something Holzgrafe and his family may never see. Besides, money doesn’t restore a reputation or end the whispers and the snickering.

Only the truth does that.

Lozier’s admission in court that his statements about Holzgrafe were false and “made willfully, maliciously, purposefully and deliberately” helped to begin to right the wrongs. The allegations of misconduct, including that Holzgrafe had a sexual relationship with one of his players, led to QU conducting an internal investigation in which the school concluded the accusations were false, but the damage had been done. 

Holzgrafe resigned as the Hawks’ coach. He stopped providing free tennis lessons to area youth. He stepped away from any kind of public spotlight.

“You lose the ability of being able to give back to the community,” said Holzgrafe, a 1990 QHS graduate who had coached at Eastern Illinois University before finally accepting an invitation to coach at QU in 2015. “Giving back to the community is the reason I coached. I said no to the job five times. When (former QU coach Bill LaTour) called for the sixth time, my wife is sitting to my right and says, ‘Maybe the good Lord is putting this in our lap.’

“So we did it. We came back to Quincy to serve the community. For it to end with that kind of accusation, that’s heart-breaking.”

Seeing his wife and children endure that as well made it more crippling.

“You kind of lose hope the truth will ever come out,” Holzgrafe said.

On the day the truth was delivered, Holzgrafe and his wife walked out of the courtroom to the sun shining bright and the belief a new day had come.

He knows people will continue to judge him. Some will whisper. Some will give him a sideways glance. When they do, he’ll pass on by and know the truth never lies. Holzgrafe’s integrity is and always has been intact. A jury simply confirmed it.

By doing that, they’ve allowed the rest of us to feel the joy and love he brings to life that a needlessly false accusation nearly quieted for good.

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