Izzo Admits He Was 'Ignorant' About Kaepernick: 'I Learn Lessons, Too'

Some conversations with former players helped him come around.

Will Burchfield
June 23, 2020 - 12:03 pm
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When Michigan State's basketball team returned to campus last week, Tom Izzo held a meeting with his players. "Legal or illegal," he said, "because I thought I had an obligation to talk to them." Not about basketball, but about the racial fault lines of our country. About Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, about Colin Kaepernick and the fight for equality.

About shifting his views to help push that fight further.  

Izzo didn't agree with Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem in 2017. It didn't matter that Kaepernick was protesting police brutality and social injustice. Izzo, like many others, found it disrespectful to the military

He knows now that he missed the point. Izzo said recent conversations with some of Michigan State's all-time greats -- guys like Greg Kelser, Magic Johnson, Steve Smith and Mateen Cleaves -- helped him gain a better understanding of Kaepernick's motives. 

"Listen, I learn lessons, too. And I’m still learning at this age," Izzo told the Jamie and Stoney Show. "I talked to all those people to try to get a good feel. And what I realized is, I wasn’t real happy with the Colin Kaepernick thing when it happened. I guess like a lot of people I looked at it as, what are we doing? The flag, all this stuff. And yet, as I look back on it, how ignorant am I? Because that was a peaceful protest."

At first, Izzo said Kaepernick's protest reminded him of how the flag became a divisive symbol in the 1960s, particularly at places like Woodstock. 

"I went and looked up some pictures that I showed my players," he said. "There were a lot of white people and they weren’t kneeling at the flag, they were burning it. And that really hit home for me. I said, 'I am into all the peaceful protests. I'm not into the burning, but I’m also trying to figure out how many times you have to try to get something done.'

"And yet, if there’s a silver (lining) in this someway, I’ve never seen so many white people, black people, Hispanic people marching together in the peaceful protests. To me, that is progress that I don’t hope will continue, it has to continue." 

For Izzo, the video of Floyd's murder in Minneapolis was another influence in broadening his views. 

"I feel like I spend a lot of time in the inner cities and around different people, and always felt like I had a good relationship. But when I saw what I saw with George Floyd, it sickened me. I said it and it did. It was real and it was disappointing, but it was disgusting," said Izzo. "None of us know all the things that happen, but a human life is a human life and we’re treating it like it’s nothing.

"As Jud Heathcote, my old boss, used to say, 'There’s bad everything.' We’ve learned that society’s got bad people as police officers, bad people as presidents, bad people as teachers, administrators. Hell, we’ve learned that there’s bad clergy. Whoever thought there’d be a day when we’re questioning priests? But this is human life."