Hickey: Months after ugliness, Michigan and Michigan State show strength of sports
Those who attempt to destroy the world often bring about the unintended effect of doing the exact opposite.
They do destroy and do so far too frequently. For some families, the heartbreak these losers have wrought can never go away.
But they can’t get all of us. And it is on those of us who avoid their direct damage to demonstrate how humanity can rise above.
They rose above — we rose above — at Crisler Arena on Saturday night.
On the surface, it was the least likely location for the Michigan State community to experience any form of healing after what happened in East Lansing this week.
For Spartans, Ann Arbor is a 4-letter word.
Michigan-Michigan State is among the nastiest rivalries in college sports. This isn’t your ordinary intrastate grudge match. It comes laden with classist undertones that can simmer the blood and boil over into ugliness.
The last time the Wolverines and Spartans met on the football field was the ugliest illustration of that ever demonstrated.
Things went far beyond the pale after the game as 7 Spartan players jumped 2 Wolverines in the tunnel on their way to their respective locker rooms.
There was kicking.
There was a helmet swinging down at a defenseless player.
And soon there were criminal charges for those Michigan State players involved.
Impossible as it seems, the discourse the week after felt even more toxic. Many Michigan fans attributed the incident to Michigan State “thuggery” — as loaded a term as there is.
Michigan State fans saw it as an example of high-minded Michigan refusing to take accountability, from a clear intent to run up the score at the end of the game to lax security at Michigan Stadium’s single tunnel after a heated game. To many of them, the majority of the charges felt like puffed-up overreach from a Maize-and-Blueblood DA.
Neither side had much use for seeing eye-to-eye.
A vocal minority even seriously suggested that the rivalry be put on temporary hold so both sides could go to their respective corners and learn how to behave.
Fortunately, that did not happen.
Michigan and Michigan State did not need separation to learn how to behave.
They needed each other.
A place for healing
The place for healing should not have been anywhere, of course. This shouldn’t still be happening.
But as long as mass shootings are America’s problem with 0 enacted solutions, whatever they may be, there will always be a place needed for healing.
Healing is the only mechanism available to aid a crisis without prevention.
In this instance, Crisler Arena was the best place for it to happen.
On the surface, Michigan State’s Breslin Center is a more fitting setting. That time will come when Michigan State hosts Indiana on Tuesday night.
But Tom Izzo’s Spartans needed to go on the road first.
For Michigan State students who spent last Monday night running away or hiding in terror on campus, walking back to Breslin for a game so soon might have felt like too much. Michigan State’s 1st step back to normalcy had to be somewhere else — something to watch on TV to ease back in.
And there was no more fitting opponent than Michigan.
What happened in the Michigan Stadium tunnel in October did not take place in a vacuum. It was an accumulation of years of back-and-forth petty grievances.
And what happened at Michigan State this week showed just how small and silly those insults and grievances are.
None of them matter.
A generation learning to someday build a better, stronger Michigan — whether Spartan or Wolverine — matters.
That’s what we got from scenes that once would have felt unthinkable.
Michigan fans holding signs and banners that read, “Spartan Strong.” The Michigan pep band learning how to play Michigan State’s alma mater. A Michigan fan crossing out the “Little” on his sign to amend the message to “Love You, Brother.”
It should not have taken a spasm of violence to bring us to this moment.
But it was a welcome sight.
Just as welcome was the fact that a high-energy game ensued — rivals coaxing the best out of each other rather than pushing each other to the brink.
For all the vitriol spent between Michigan and Michigan State fans in recent months, reality showed us a different story. Off the field and off the court, Spartans and Wolverines are on the same team.
Unfortunately, there will be a day when some other school inevitably finds itself in the same situation as Michigan State. That’s the continual price of inaction.
But we are able to stand up to the madness in how we respond.
On Saturday night, Michigan and Michigan State provided an exemplary case of how to come together just months after such a thing would have seemed impossible.
Hopefully that lesson isn’t soon forgotten.