Two nights after the worst night, two nights after a peaceful campus and bustling community was torn apart by a gunman, two nights after three young lives were taken and five more were driven to fight for a future and thousands more were affected in big or small ways, Tom Izzo stood up and tried to make sense of it all.
“Just a basketball coach,” the Michigan State coach said, and it’s true. He was not here at a candlelight vigil to offer heart-healing and problem-solving words. He didn’t have a magic wand.
There is no magic wand.
Ariel Anderson. Alexandria Verner. Brian Fraser. None returned to campus, returned to class. Speeches, hugs, thoughts, prayers were all powerless to change anything.
Anderson of Harper Woods, Michigan, was known for her devotion to her family and friends. She was studying to be a doctor. Verner was a talented athlete in three sports and a campus leader in Clawson, Michigan. She was pursuing a career as a medical examiner. Fraser, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, was known to have a personality and a future as bright as his smile.
They represent everything this school has been, is, and forever will be, no matter what a shooter’s intention is. All those tenacious students, all those children who are heading into the future, all those young students who are looking to get in, make a difference and then help their families and communities.
Michigan State is a massive university that somehow creates the closest and most personal bonds. Maybe it’s the shared trip. Maybe that’s the magic of a sprawling campus. Maybe that’s just the philosophy of the place.
He is certainly well represented by his longtime men’s basketball coach. He’s been here for 40 years, 28 of them as a head coach. Both of her children are graduates of MSU. He’s its most famous employee, a man who somehow combines the ball fists of underdog rage with the skill and confidence of a favorite who’s reached all those Final Fours.
“I don’t like the place,” Izzo said. “I don’t like the place.
“I live there.”
It is their place. It is their school. It’s their family.
And on Monday it was broken.
Police say a 43-year-old gunman with no known connection to the school and no known motive (if such a thing could exist) came to campus on Monday and started hell unimaginable. Three dead. Five wounded. Thousands of people have been affected, both on campus and in the confines of alumni.
Michigan State is a place of promise and purpose, fond memories and limitless possibilities. It should be lessons, study sessions and laughter in the dorms. It should be autumn walks on red cedar and late nights downtown and, yes, euphoric victories inside the Breslin Center.
This shouldn’t be a crime scene. It shouldn’t be police lights flashing on CNN. It shouldn’t be vigils and speeches.
“I can’t begin to imagine what you’re all going through,” Izzo told the crowd of students ahead of him.
“Look around you,” he continued. “Look beside you. Shake someone’s hand. Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. This is what we are and this is what we need to be right now.
“…Michigan State is my home,” Izzo said. “Everyone thinks I’m a Yooper. Yeah, that’s where I’m from [Iron Mountain in the remote Upper Peninsula], but pretty much my entire adult life, I’ve been a Spartan. I saw incredible highs and, yes, unfortunately, there were devastating lows.
“But as Spartans, we always get away with it,” he continued. “If you need proof, look at all of us standing here tonight, each of us, we came for many different reasons. Heal. Conduct. To honor our victims. To resist fear, which you are going to have to do a lot in your life.
“Whatever you feel, everything is valid.
“Emotions are different for every person,” he said. “I cry in front of my team. I cry on national TV. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. We all deal with trauma in different ways. I’m just glad we’re all here together tonight. So let me conclude with a challenge. Let’s do a better job of taking care of each other.
He praised doctors working to save lives. He praised the first responders and police forces who secured the campus and kept the worst from getting worse. He praised campus leaders for having an emergency plan, and then the students for following it.
He was just a basketball coach, he noted. A person. Just a guy who had been here longer than almost anyone else and who cared as much as anyone else and suffered for an institution, a place, an ideal he held dear.
So he came to speak and came to challenge and came to lead. Sometimes these college coaches get too much praise, too much power, and maybe too much money. It’s just basketball. It’s just sports.
Yet sometimes it’s so much more when you desperately need it.
“I think everyone who mentioned something has to be done in our society,” Izzo said. “Gun violence is senseless right now. We all have a platform. Some are small, some tall, but we all have a platform. And I hope each of you uses your platform to help others so that other families don’t have to go through what these families are going through right now.
“I hope you meet the 10 people around you and grow closer. The world needs it. The state of Michigan needs it. The time of mourning needs it.
“I need it.”
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