This has been a horrendous football season for the Michigan State Spartans. On Sept. 27, the university fired football coach Mel Tucker for cause after a USA Today investigation revealed sexual harassment allegations against Tucker by Brenda Tracy, a prominent rape survivor and activist hired by the coach to speak to his team about sexual violence and consent.
Then under interim Head Coach Harlon Barnett, the team dropped to an 0-4 record in Big 10 conference play, suffering a 49-0 drubbing at the hands of arch-rival Michigan last Saturday at Spartan Stadium. But what proved even more embarrassing was when a picture of Adolf Hitler flashed on the Spartan Stadium scoreboard 80 minutes before the start of the Michigan game as part of a video trivia quiz.
Late Sunday, MSU Athletic Director Alan Haller announced in a statement that after an initial assessment, an unnamed employee connected to the scoreboard incident “has been identified and suspended with pay pending the results of an investigation.” The statement did not make clear whether it was intentional or the result of lax oversight, NBC News reported.
Haller added: “The investigation will determine any future appropriate actions.”
In his statement, Haller apologized for the “offensive image” displayed on the video board and “the pain it has caused our community.”
“Ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure all those who interact with Spartan Athletics feel safe, valued and respected.
“The image was harmful to our communities, especially our Jewish community which is currently experiencing a rise of antisemitism, including acts of violence.
“Michigan State Athletics is responsible for all content shown on its video boards. Before it was displayed, the video was not viewed in its entirety by anyone in athletics, exposing a failure in our process. The video was not part of a sponsorship and had no affiliation with any of our corporate partners or our community.”
The scoreboard incident couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Israel-Hamas war has already heightened concerns over antisemitism and Islamophobia, particularly on college campuses. On Saturday morning, a Detroit synagogue president was found fatally stabbed outside her home, although police so far have said there is no evidence of an antisemitic hate crime in the killing.
Midway through the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s game, the MSU athletics department had already issued a statement apologizing for the pre-game Hitler scoreboard display.
Matt Larson, MSU’s associate athletics director, wrote:
”MSU is aware that inappropriate content by a third-party source was displayed on the videoboard prior to the start of tonight’s football game. We are deeply sorry for the content that was displayed, as this is not representative of our institutional values. MSU will not be using the third-party source going forward and will implement stronger screening and approval procedures for all videoboard content in the future.”
But that statement just stirred another controversy. The university said the quiz question about Hitler’s birthplace was part of a video from a YouTube page called “The Quiz Channel,” CNN reported. The school said videos from the same YouTube page had been used all season before each home game.
Floris van Pallandt, the creator of The Quiz Channel, told CNN in an email that Michigan State’s use of its channel’s content was unauthorized. He said he was “completely unaware” until the Hitler scoreboard incident that MSU had been using publicly accessible content from his channel.
“The utilization of my publicly accessible YouTube content for stadium entertainment is highly questionable to say the least,” he told CNN. He added: “It is unacceptable for The Quiz Channel to bear reputational, performance, or financial repercussions due to MSU’s unsolicited use of our content.”
But he defended the question about Hitler’s birthplace as factual, although inappropriate to display it on a stadium scoreboard before a live audience. “The trivia question displayed at the stadium is a legitimate one, and it’s imperative we don’t shy away from history’s more dark facets,” van Pallandt said.
The YouTube video is below. The question is number 28 at the 10:44 mark:
Haller’s apology came after MSU’s Board of Trustees released a statement earlier Sunday demanding answers to why Hitler’s image was shown on the scoreboard before the Michigan game, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“The Michigan State University (MSU) Board of Trustees is outraged at last night’s incident at Spartan Stadium,” the statement said. “The projected image was unacceptable, and as the oversight body for MSU we want to publicly apologize to everyone who was in Spartan Stadium or learned of this through other means.”
“The board has spoken with Interim President Teresa Woodruff and Athletic Director Alan Haller and conveyed to them our extreme disappointment and our demand to know how this happened. MSU personnel must be accountable and held responsible for this disgusting display.”
In his statement, Haller said that Michigan State Athletics was committed “to ensuring this never happens again.” He added that he would be reaching out to local groups in the Jewish community and to other student leadership groups on campus. And he concluded by saying:
“Antisemitism must be denounced. The image displayed prior to Saturday night’s game is not representative of who we are and the culture we embody. Nevertheless, we must own our failures and accept responsibility. I understand our response might be met with skepticism. That skepticism is warranted, and we will do all that is necessary to earn back your trust.”