UPDATE: Illinois State University issues apology to Norfolk State after fan uses racial slur

The racial slur occurred in the second half of the game. (Photo courtesy: GoRedbirds)

By Blake Haas & Jake Fogal

NORMAL – A return to Horton Field House on Saturday for the Illinois State Men’s basketball team featured a competitive game but a racial slur from a fan.

During a matchup between the Redbirds and Norfolk State, a fan yelled a racist slur towards a Norfolk State student-athlete.

The alleged slur came in the middle of the second half in the return to Horton Field House game.

“And now (Norfolk State Coach) Jones and (Redbird Coach) Ryan Pedon are going at it at half court, and they’re going to have to be separated,” John Fitzgerald, the Voice of the Redbirds, said during the broadcast on WJBC. “This is pretty much a melee that’s about to ensue here at Horton. Both benches are starting to clear, and (the officials and coaches) are trying to get both back.”

After the slur, Norfolk State Heacd Coach Robert Jones stood face to face with Redbird Coach Ryan Pedon.

“I was upset he (Norfolk State Coach Jones) he was on the floor, and I was raising hell with the referees,” Redbird second-year coach Pedon told the media after the game. “It was never personal towards him. I’ll take the high road on that. I’ll take the high road. But I’m a competitor, man.

Sometimes, I’m Italian, so sometimes my emotions can get the best of me at times. Yeah, I don’t apologize for my competitive edge. That’s how I want our teams to play.”

After the altercation between the two coaches, multiple fans were ejected from the game.

As a result, both teams and coaches were issued technical fouls, but no players were ejected.

After the game, Norfolk State Coach Jones took to social media to address the issue.

“I’m not letting anybody call my players a racial slur. Those are my kids, and I will fight for them. We have come too far in society to be called (a racial slur) at a college basketball game.”

Sunday evening, Illinois State University issued a comment regarding the situation.

“The men’s basketball game on Saturday between Illinois State and Norfolk State was regrettable marred by the report of a racial slur directed at a Norfolk State player by an Illinois State fan. The use of racial slurs and other offensive language targeting people for their identity is abhorrent and is not tolerated by Illinois State University,” Eric Jome, the University’s Director of Media Relations told WJBC. “Illinois State has moved swiftly to investigate the report and will respond appropriately. Illinois State University and Redbird Athletics extend sincere apologies to Norfolk State University, its student-athletes, and its athletic staff for the deep upset caused, and university leaders have personally reached out to colleagues at Norfolk State.”

Head Coach Ryan Pedon’s issued the following statement on Twitter Sunday afternoon.

“I reached out this morning to Coach Robert Jones to offer my apology for my reaction during our game last night. I take full responsibility for my actions.

I was wrong for allowing the situation to escalate. I expressed to Coach Jones after the game-I absolutely did not hear what he was saying to me. Had I heard Coach Jones, my response would have been completely different.

This was a misunderstanding in which I reacted to him without understanding the situation, and I own that mistake 100%. I would also like to apologize for any negative reflection my response may have brought to either institution, its student-athletes or basketball programs.”

Norfolk State University President Javaune Adams-Gaston, and NSU Director of Athletics Melody Webb responded following ISU’s issued apology and Coach Pedon’s posted statement.

“We are profoundly disappointed at the events that transpired during the men’s basketball game yesterday at Illinois State University where racial epithets were shouted at our student-athletes. We are at a critical time in this nation and world as it relates to race relations, and any type of hate speech or language is unacceptable.  

This type of behavior and language has no place in society or in athletic competition.  College athletics is rooted in sportsmanship, camaraderie and exhibiting school pride. We appreciate Coach Jones for standing up for our student-athletes, and we commend our student-athletes for exhibiting restraint during a stressful ordeal. Our student-athletes followed in the footsteps of the late Bill Russell and basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during their collegiate careers, and successfully played through racial slurs meant to traumatize and disrupt the team. Our students remained Spartan Strong, but that is not something they should have to overcome during an athletic event in 2023. We are so proud of our team maintaining a competitive game and spectacular performance for a win against Illinois State University.

We have heard from the president and athletic director of Illinois State University. They have stated the behavior shown to our student-athletes at the Horton Field House is not representative of their institution and they will fully investigate this incident. We acknowledge their apology and look forward to hearing the results of their investigation.”

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

Blake Haas can be reached at [email protected].

Jake Fogal can be reached at [email protected].


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