By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter Emeritus
New Journal and Guide
Illinois State University (ISU) officials are investigating an incident where fans of the school’s basketball team hurled racial slurs at the Norfolk State University (NSU) Spartans during a contest on December 9.
During Illinois State men’s basketball’s loss to NSU at Horton Field House, an altercation occurred following claims that an ISU fan directed racial slurs at an NSU player, leading to the ejection of three ISU fans, according to various news agencies.
“The men’s basketball game between Illinois State and Norfolk State was regrettably marred by the report of a racial slur directed at a Norfolk State player by an Illinois State fan,” the university said in the release.
NSU player Jamarii Thomas spoke with officials to make them aware of the racial slurs directed toward him with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.
”The use of racial slurs and other offensive language targeting people for their identity is abhorrent and is not tolerated by Illinois State University. Among Illinois State’s core values are respect for others, diversity, and inclusion,” the statement continued.
NSU head coach Robert Jones went on the court to speak with officials. ISU head coach Ryan Pedon was upset NSU head coach Robert Jones was on the floor.
NSU President Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D., and the school’s Director of Athletics, Melody Webb, released a statement on December 10.
“We are profoundly disappointed at the events that transpired during the men’s basketball game (December 9) at Illinois State University where racial epithets were shouted at our student-athletes,” the statement said. “We are at a critical time in this nation and world as it relates to race relations, and any type of hate speech or language is unacceptable.
“This behavior and language has no place in society or athletic competition. College athletics is rooted in sportsmanship, camaraderie, and exhibiting school pride.
“We appreciate Coach Jones for standing up for our student-athletes, and we commend our student-athletes for exhibiting restraint during a stressful ordeal. Our student-athletes followed in the footsteps of the late Bill Russell and basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during their collegiate careers and successfully played through racial slurs meant to traumatize and disrupt the team. Our students remained Spartan Strong, but that is not something they should have to overcome during an athletic event in 2023. We are so proud of our team for maintaining a competitive game and spectacular performance for a win against Illinois State University.
“We have heard from the president and athletic director of Illinois State University. They have stated that the behavior shown to our student-athletes at the Horton Field House does not represent their institution and that they will fully investigate this incident. We acknowledge their apology and look forward to hearing the results of their investigation.”
Just after 6 p.m. (December 10), ISU men’s basketball released a statement from Pedon via its X account.
“I reached out to Coach Robert Jones this morning to apologize for my reaction during our game last night. I take full responsibility for my actions. I was wrong for allowing the situation to escalate. I expressed to Coach Jones after the game that I absolutely did not hear what he was saying to me,” Pedon said in the statement.
“Had I heard Coach Jones, my response would have been completely different. This was a misunderstanding in which I reacted to him without understanding the situation, and I own that mistake 100%. I would also like to apologize for any negative reflation my response may have brought to either institution, its student-athletes, or basketball programs,” Pedon continued.
Pedon addressed the conflict in his post-game press conference following ISU’s 64-58 loss to NSU.
“I was upset he was on the floor, and I was raising hell with the referees. It was never personal to him. I’ll leave it at that. I’ll take the high road on that,” Pedon said.
Jones took to X, formerly Twitter, to express his emotions about the incident following the game.
“I’m not letting anybody call my players a racial slur. Those are my kids, and I will fight for them. We have come too far in society to be called the N-word at (a) college basketball game,” Jones posted via X after the game.
Jones reposted a number of comments on the situation, including one that said, “PARENTS PAY ATTENTION!”! One coach is standing up for his players, and the other coach is mad at the coach for standing up for his players. Choose wisely.”
“Illinois State has moved swiftly to investigate the report and will respond appropriately. Illinois State University and Redbird Athletics extend sincere apologies to Norfolk State University, its student-athletes, and its athletics staff for the deep upset caused, and university leaders have personally reached out to colleagues at Norfolk State,” the university said in the release.