Thursday, June 4, 2020

Letter: Outburst by Tom Izzo could signal deeper cultural issues

Head Coach Tom Izzo converses with freshman forward Aaron Henry (11) during the NCAA tournament game against Bradley at Wells Fargo Arena March 21, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Braves, 76-65.
Head Coach Tom Izzo converses with freshman forward Aaron Henry (11) during the NCAA tournament game against Bradley at Wells Fargo Arena March 21, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Braves, 76-65. —
Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

By Andrew Gilbert

Gilbert graduated from Michigan State in 1984.

Editor's note: This is a letter to the editor, which is not endorsed by The State News editorial board.

Respectfully, as an alumnus and someone that has been a big MSU football and basketball fan for seemingly forever, it is growing increasingly difficult to rationalize some of the prominent and ongoing actions by public MSU personalities with the tragedy that transpired.

Coach Izzo has certainly done a lot for MSU. I would have been the first to criticize some of the ESPN efforts last spring to associate Izzo and (football coach Mark) Dantonio with what happened regarding (Larry) Nassar. That said, I start to now ponder some threads. And that maybe they had a point. As in perhaps bad events don't start at the end. They have beginnings marked by seeming minor but increasing rationalizations and unchecked behavior and missed opportunities to address. By a lack of will. By a lack of imagination. By a willingness to rationalize clearly bad behavior because of the prominence of the individual? A look the other way approach because of otherwise conflicting interests versus a solid consistent and true commitment to education, safety, respect and the development of the individual.

Allowing someone to behave unfettered out of fear of reputation or role is a sad statement and reflection on what should be the overall educational mission and message of MSU. Particularly in light of recent history. Having to bear witness to the screaming rants of a "madman" at a student athlete creates a pit in one's stomach. I wish it were otherwise, but it's not. I wish it were isolated, but it's not. And it's only getting worse. The latest just went more viral because the stage was bigger.

Coach Izzo, in his post game rationalizations, called to mind a metaphor of "you do a bad job, you get yelled at." Not so sure I agree with that, as it implies a singular devotion to one set of methods without a real sample size of efficacy. But I guess he can have an opinion on that much.

That said, his players aren't "employees," at least in some nominal sense. And the same standard he is applying here should, regardless, in all fairness be applied to him. Clearly. He quite obviously needs help and guidance, as the outbursts are harmful, to everyone. To himself and his "legacy." To the entire MSU community. To college athletics. Everyone. 

It's something that is really tough to bear witness to. It's like watching a plane crash, out of refusal to take the controls from Captain Ahab. Shortly after suffering a hurricane where everyone refused to heed the warnings. Can we do better than this?

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