Norfolk State University incident shows ugly side of college sports

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Illinois State University billed Saturday’s game against Norfolk State University as a return to its roots when it hosted the HBCU squad in venerable Horton Arena.

Unfortunately, that proved applicable in more ways than it likely intended.

Late in a close, physical game Norfolk State University star guard Jamarii Thomas heard a fan call him a racial slur, and he told his head coach Robert Jones. Jones, normally an animated but laid-back coach, charged onto the court to alert the officials — who apparently heard the remark as well.

Illinois State head coach Ryan Pedon took exception to the fact that Jones was expressive with the referees, and decided to step in — nearly creating another incident by trying to police a grown man instead of letting the officials do their job.

Illinois State University,

“I was upset he was on the floor and I was raising hell with the referees. It was never personal towards him,” Pedon said. “I’ll just leave it at that. I’ll take the high road on that.”

Ironically, Pedon attempted to use his ethnicity as a way to explain his reaction to Jones’ reaction of his African-American player being called the N-word. That is apparently what goes for ‘the high road’ in Normal, Illinois.

“I’m a competitor, man. I’m an Italian, so sometimes my emotions can get the best of me at times, but I don’t apologize for my competitive edge and that’s how I want our teams to play,” Pedon continued.

It was an interesting juxtaposition by Pedon, who has as many as eight African-American players on his Illinois State team. That his ethnicity allowed him to try to control the reaction of  a black man defending his black player from being

The irony of the racial slur being used against him on a team that has a large percentage of African-American players was not lost on Thomas. Thomas transferred to Norfolk State University after starting his career at UNC Wilmington.

“This how PWI fans really feel bout they African American players,” Thomas tweeted after the game. He scored 31 points in the win, which should have been the story.

Thomas’ mother, Aja Thomas, praised her son for maintaining his cool despite the ugliness of the crowd.

“The good Lord knew not to let me be present at this game. Character is everything,” she tweeted. “I raised my son right and I’m proud of him for keeping his composure. He dropped 31 on their heads! They were BIG MAD!! Proud Spartan Mama.”

The fans were kicked out of the game. Unfortunately, the attitude and entitlement of fans that sparked the incident will likely never be removed. But the incident itself should speak volumes to any Black players recruited by Illinois State University— or any other predominately white institution.

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