East Lansing — Michigan State tips off the basketball regular season on Friday night, and when it takes the floor at the Breslin Center, the players will be doing their best to ignite conversations about what they see as social injustices in our society.
The Spartans plan to wear T-shirts while warming up for the game against North Florida that read, “We talk, we listen,” on the front and include a phrase from sophomore Miles Bridges on the back that says, “It’s not about me, it’s about us.”
The phrase from Bridges came from when he decided last April to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season.
But the decision to wear the shirts stems from multiple team meetings with players and staff that included discussions about everything from race to religion, coach Tom Izzo said.
“One thing we all agreed on was that there are social injustices,” Izzo said. “There is so much divisiveness in our country. The players wanted to do something but not anything to offend anyone or anything else. We felt too many people are talking and not enough people are listening. Everybody has their own opinions on things, everybody talks about things and not a lot gets done
“As team, we realized we have the platform to make our world a better place and to at least to start the conversation locally.”
Bridges said all the players understood the position they’re in and it was one of the big reasons they felt they should speak out, noting this is not sort of protest about any specific issue.
“They can’t really find anything negative about it because it’s not really a protest,” Bridges said. “It’s not against anything, we’re just saying that we’re all together in this.
“All of us are in a position, especially with Michigan State basketball, to say what we need to say. We have people looking up to us so we feel like we can do it.”
The discussions came while protests in sports have started to grow, especially in the NFL with some players kneeling for the national anthem to protest police violence against minorities.
Izzo was clear that the Spartans would not be staging any sort of objection and would continue to stand together as a team for the anthem with their hands over their hearts.
“We're not trying to capture the moment, we're trying to create a movement, and that is a major statement,” Izzo said. "This isn't for show, this isn't to make anybody feel good, it's not to make anybody feel bad. It’s done to capture the moment and get people to converse and create a movement
“Like our mission statement that my AD so strongly believes in, we gather and engage. We do that with conversation.”
Izzo said he understood there would be cynics, those who questioned his motivations. He said he’s come to find out in life that he doesn’t have all the answers and has grown tired of the divisiveness in our country.
So, with the platform his team has, the Spartans are hoping to play a small part in making things better.
“This is the first step,” Izzo said. “We might look at some things we might want to do different, maybe another shirt. But this is a way of being able to stay humble but try to make a difference. It’s part of the education process and that’s why we’re in school, to educate kids. Together, as a team, we can start to give part of a positive change.
“If I can be a part of helping that grow, then I’ve done a lot. If I can do that, that’s a lot more than winning a national championship. If I can work on both, then wow, that would be special.”
It’s already had an effect on the team. Senior captain Lourawls Nairn said it’s brought players closer as the frank, open discussions have allowed them to connect like they hadn’t before.
Nairn hopes the message that listening is as important as talking catches on.
“I think it could be pretty big,” Nairn said. “Start off small but I think it can be pretty big and effective.”