Illinois State is investigating claims that one or more of its fans used a racial slur against a Norfolk State player in the latter's 64-58 win over the Redbirds on Saturday, per a statement released Sunday.
"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," ISU's statement read. "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."
After Saturday's game, Norfolk State coach Robert Jones tweeted that one of his players had been called a slur by Illinois State fans during the game, which was the Spartans' third consecutive victory after previous wins over William & Mary and VCU.
"I'm not letting anybody call my players a racial slur," Jones said in his tweet. "Those are my kids and I will fight for them. We have come too far in society to be called the N word at [a] college basketball game."
Per a video of the aftermath of the alleged verbal attack, Jones walked onto the court before he was stopped by his players with his team ahead 46-40 in the second half. The broadcast crew said Norfolk State's Jamarii Thomas had an interaction with fans during a dead ball situation.
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 the N word at college basketball game. https://t.co/hoyJ9VfSAx— Robert Jones (@NSUCoachJones) December 10, 2023
As Jones returned to the sideline, Illinois State coach Ryan Pedon confronted him. Both coaches were issued technical fouls and fans were ejected from the arena.
It's unclear why Pedon confronted Jones in the aggressive manner he did after the Norfolk State coach said he was addressing racially offensive language used against his team, but after the game the Illinois State coach had no regrets.
"I was upset [Jones] was on the floor and I was raising hell with the referees," Pedon told reporters. "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. 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."
Illinois State's statement did not acknowledge Pedon's behavior during the game.