Illinois State apologizes after fans are accused of using racial slur against Norfolk State player

Illinois State University has apologized after at least one of its fans was accused of hurling racial slurs at a Black player for Norfolk State University during a basketball game Saturday, leading to a confrontation between the teams’ coaches. 

The Norfolk State Spartans were ahead of the Illinois State Redbirds in the second half when the broadcast crew pointed out that one or two fans had made “idiotic comments” that were “of a racial nature.” The broadcasters added that Jamarii Thomas of Norfolk State, a historically Black university, was seen exchanging words with at least one fan before being reprimanded by an official.

“The men’s basketball game on Saturday between Illinois State and Norfolk State was regrettably marred by the report of a racial slur directed at a Norfolk State player by an Illinois State fan,” Bill Salyer, ISU’s director of athletic communications, told NBC News in a statement. “The use of racial slurs and other offensive language targeting people for their identity is abhorrent and is not tolerated by Illinois State University. Among Illinois State’s core values are respect for others, diversity, and inclusion.” 

“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 athletics staff for the deep upset caused and university leaders have personally reached out to colleagues at Norfolk State.”

Norfolk State coach Robert Jones later wrote in a post on the X platform, “I’m not letting anybody call my players a racial slur.”

“Those are my kids and I will fight for them,” Jones wrote. “We have come too far in society to be called the N word at college basketball game.”

Footage of the incident uploaded to social media showed Jones visibly upset, with players working to keep him from walking onto the court. Illinois State coach Ryan Pedon is then shown aggressively confronting Jones and players from both teams rushing to the men’s sides.

Some fans were removed from the arena and both Jones and Pedon were issued technical fouls, according to ESPN. Pedon said in a statement through the university that he reached out to Jones to apologize after the incident and noted that he takes “full responsibility” for his actions. Pedon said he did not initially hear what Jones was saying during the game and he “was wrong for allowing the situation to escalate.”

“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,” he said. 

Norfolk State President Javaune Adams-Gaston applauded Jones in a statement to NBC News on Monday for “standing up for our student athletes.” Adams-Gaston said the school accepts Illinois State University’s apology.

“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,” Adams-Gaston continued.

“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.” 

The Spartans beat the Redbirds, 64-58.

For more from NBC BLK, sign up for our weekly newsletter.