Tom Izzo closes heartbreaking speech to Michigan State students and community with a challenge

Two nights after the worst night ever, two nights after a peaceful campus and bustling community were torn to pieces by a gunman, two nights after three young people were killed, five others were forced to fight for the future, and thousands more suffered small, Tom Izzo stood and tried to figure it all out.

“Just a basketball coach,” the Michigan State coach said, and it’s true. He was not here for a candlelight vigil to speak words that heal hearts and solve problems. He didn’t have a magic wand.

There is no magic wand.

Ariel Anderson. Alexandria Werner. Brian Frazier. Nobody went back to campus, nobody went back to class. Speeches, hugs, thoughts, prayers could not change anything.

Anderson, from Harper Woods, Michigan, was known for her devotion to family and friends. She studied to be a doctor. Werner was a gifted tri-sport athlete and campus leader from Clawson, Michigan. She made a career as a medical examiner. Frazier, from Grosse Point, Michigan, was known for having a personality and future that was as bright as his smile.

They represent everything this school was, is, and always will be, no matter what any gunman has in mind. All these persistent students, all these kids looking to the future, all these young students who want to get there, make a difference in the world, and then go help their families and communities.

Michigan State is a huge university that somehow creates the closest and most personal connections. Maybe it’s a shared journey. Maybe it’s the magic of the sprawling campus. Maybe it’s just the spirit of the place.

This is certainly well represented by his longtime men’s basketball coach. He’s been here for 40 years, 28 of them as head coach. Both of his children graduated from Moscow State University. He is her most famous collaborator, a man who somehow combines the clenched fists of underdog fury with the talent and confidence of the favorite to have reached all those Final Fours.

“I don’t like this place,” Izzo said. “I don’t like this place.

“I live in this place.”

This is their place. This is their school. This is their family.

And on Monday it was broken.

Mourners sit at the Rock on the grounds of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, Wednesday, February 15, 2023.  Alexandria Werner, Brian Frazier and Ariel Anderson were killed, and several other students remain in critical condition after a gunman opened fire.  on the campus of Michigan State University on Monday evening.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancia)
Mourners sit by a cliff in Michigan’s East Lansing on Wednesday afternoon. Alexandria Werner, Brian Frazier and Ariel Anderson were killed and several other students are in critical condition after a gunman opened fire on campus Monday night. (AP Photo/Paul Sancia)

Police said the 43-year-old shooter with no known ties to the school and unknown motives (if such things could exist) came to campus on Monday and unleashed unimaginable hell. Three dead. Five wounded. Thousands have been affected, both on campus and among alumni.

Michigan is a place of promise and purpose, great memories, and endless possibilities. It should be about classes, study sessions and dorm laughter. It should be autumn walks on the Red Cedar and late nights in the city center and, yes, euphoric victories in the Breslin Center.

This shouldn’t be a crime scene. It shouldn’t be flashing police lights on CNN. It should not be vigils and speeches.

“I can’t even imagine what you’re all going through,” Izzo told the student crowd in front of him.

“Look around you,” he continued. “Look next to you. Shake someone’s hand. Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. This is who we are and this is who we need to be right now.

“… Michigan is my home,” Izzo said. “Everyone thinks I’m Juper. Yes, I’m from there [Iron Mountain in the remote Upper Peninsula], but almost all my adult life I was a Spartan. I’ve seen incredible ups and, yes, unfortunately, there have been devastating downs.

“But as Spartans, we always manage it,” he continued. “If you need proof, look at all of us standing here tonight, each of us, we came for different reasons. Treat. Drive. In honor of our victims. Confront the fear of what you have to do in life.

“Whatever you feel, it’s all real.

“Emotions are different for everyone,” he said. “I cry in front of my team. I cry on national television. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. We all experience trauma differently. I’m just glad we’re all here together tonight. So let me end with a challenge. Let’s work better, taking care of each other.”

He praised the doctors working to save lives. He praised the first responders and the police for keeping the campus safe and not letting the worst get worse. He praised campus leaders for having a contingency plan, and then students for following it.

He was just a basketball coach, he noted. Nobody. Just a guy who’s been here longer than anyone else, cared as much as anyone else, and rooted for an institution, a place, an ideal that he held dear.

So he came to speak and he came to challenge and he came to lead. Sometimes these college coaches get too much credit, too much power, and maybe too much money. It’s just basketball. It’s just a sport.

But sometimes it’s a lot more when a lot more is desperately needed.

“I think that everyone who mentioned something should be accepted in our society,” Izzo said. “Gun violence is insane right now. We all have a platform. Some are small, some are tall, but we all have a platform. And I hope that each of you use 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 10 people around you and get closer. The world needs it. The state of Michigan needs it. This is needed in a sad time.

“I need it.”


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