MSU's Tom Izzo 'Still Learning' After Past Opposition to Kneeling During Anthem

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2020

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, left, talks with Rocket Watts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State, Sunday, March 8, 2020, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis/Associated Press

Tom Izzo has changed his stance on Colin Kaepernick's protest of racial inequality and police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem before NFL games in 2016. 

The Michigan State head coach appeared on 97.1 The Ticket's Jamie and Stoney Show and said conversations with former Spartans stars like Greg Kelser, Magic Johnson, Steve Smith and Mateen Cleaves helped him to reevaluate his prior stance that Kaepernick's protest was disrespectful to the military:

"Listen, I learn lessons, too. And I'm still learning at this age. 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."

Izzo said Kaepernick's protest originally reminded him of people burning flags in protest during the 1960s:

"I went and looked up some pictures that I showed my players. 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." 

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Another factor for Izzo changing his tune on Kaepernick's protest was the killing of George Floyd, who died after since-fired and since-arrested Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes while officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao—also fired and arrested after Floyd's death—did not intervene. 

"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," he said. "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."

When many athletes in sports took a knee in protest in the wake of Kaepernick's decision to do so, Izzo had his players stand for the anthem with their hands over their hearts. The team's players did wear warm-up shirts for some games that read "We Talk, We Listen" on the front and "It's Not About Me, It's About Us." 

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