After the ugliness in Washington D.C. this week, the Purdue and Michigan State basketball teams, along with game officials, did something unusual.
They stood together at midcourt in a solidarity circle prior to the start of Friday’s game against violence, against racism and to promote understanding.
“Coach (Tom) Izzo reached out to me before and I talked to my players after the shoot-around today and they were all for it,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after Friday’s game.
Izzo shook his head in disgust in his post-game press conference when asked about the pregame event.
“I was so sickened by the ridiculous events in Washington D.C ., and when I talked to my team, I made the decision and I just said, ‘Maybe a bunch of 20-year-olds can teach a bunch of adults,’ " Izzo said. “And the two teams – I talked to Matt about it – that have gone head-to-head for 30 years that I’ve been (at Michigan State), that hate each other during the game, but respect each other, I feel sad that our country is so screwed up that these poor kids. What do they have to look forward to? Was that fair what happened (in Washington)?”
The two coaches implied things would have been much different if this week’s Washington events were part of a Black Lives Matter protest.
“It’s just the double standard more than anything,” Painter said. “America needs to see that, especially white America – and see the double standard that’s been going on for years. And, for that to happen, just makes you sick to your stomach.
“Like anything, we need to have great leaders, we need to have leadership now in our country across the board that stands up and sends the right message. But also, from law enforcement, we not only need to make strides," he said. "You’ve got to start over, start over with people and what they understand in the world and treat everyone equal. It’s not been happening.”
Izzo and Painter are the most tenured Big Ten basketball coaches. The 65-year-old Izzo became head coach with the Spartans in 1995. The 50-year-old Painter took over the Purdue coaching reins in 2005.
On Thursday, the Michigan State Capitol building in East Lansing was shut down due to a bomb threat. In May, armed protestors gathered at the Capitol decrying the governor’s stay-at-home order due to the pandemic. In October, authorities foiled a threat to kidnap and possibly kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Izzo wondered if it were blacks at the forefront of the Washington protests, would things have played out the same way?
“Was it handled in the same way it would have been handled if there were different circumstances?" Izzo asked. “I thought no.
“So, I said to Matt, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and show the old people that these young people need role models, they need to look at something and understand it. I think that if Michigan State and Purdue can battle with respect, maybe the Democrats and Republicans and whatever other people that are out there can do what’s best for our country instead of doing what’s best for themselves.
“Tonight, I thought both teams did what’s best for college basketball and our country and not selfishly for themselves.”
“I appreciated (Izzo) instigating that and saying that because obviously it’s at Michigan State and the whole Michigan State community and their players support them, and obviously all of our staff and our players support that also because it was the right thing to do,” Painter said.
While Friday’s pregame solidarity gathering may not change the country, it showed young people are watching.
“Hats off to the 20-year-olds,” Izzo said. “When I talked to my team about it, they were 100% for it, and when Matt talked to his team, they were 100% for it … We blame kids for changing, (but) it’s the adults that change. It’s the adults that do the things that have been done, so maybe we ought to look in the mirror and stop blaming the young people and blame us, because it’s us who can control some of those things."