Thirty-six hours after violence erupted in the postgame Michigan Stadium tunnel, Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh remained livid over two of his players being injured in what he has termed an “assault” at the hands of numerous Michigan State players.
“What happened in the tunnel was egregious,” Harbaugh said. “Sickening to watch the videos that are on social media as well as the ABC telecam which is on a higher elevation that shows much more of what took place. Those are sickening to watch.
“There needs to be accountability," Harbaugh continued. "There needs to be a full, thorough, timely investigation. I can’t imagine this will not result in criminal charges. The videos are bad. It's clear what transpired. It's very open and shut. As they say, watch the tape.”
Thirty minutes later and 65 miles away, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker discussed the suspension of four Spartans for their role in the incident and apologized in general to “both universities” but refused to offer much elaboration, citing ongoing criminal and Big Ten investigations.
Without saying directly, he suggested that Harbaugh offering an assessment of what should happen was “irresponsible.” He confirmed that he hasn’t called his Michigan rival directly.
“Out of respect for the integrity of the investigation it would be irresponsible for me to comment further,” Tucker said.
So, yeah, this isn’t settling down, where the feelings on both sides of a rivalry are raw and exposed in ways that the other can hardly recognize. Welcome to college football.
Michigan soundly defeated State on Saturday, 29-7, and moved to 8-0 on the season.
The violence started postgame. Ninety-five-year-old Michigan Stadium has one tunnel for both teams, game officials, support staff and on-field media to enter and exit. The visiting team sideline is closest to the tunnel, which sits at the 50-yard line.
Before the game and during halftime there are protocols in place to keep the teams separated, including having officials leave between them.
Postgame incidents traditionally break down because players and coaches often mingle and congratulate each other, visit with friends or former high school teammates on opposing teams, or get delayed saying hello to family in the stands.
The stadium has been home to some of the most intense rivalry games in the history of the sport — most notably when Ohio State, Michigan State or Notre Dame visit. Incidents with shouting and pushing have occurred pregame and at halftime, but nothing like this. The school doesn’t recall a postgame fight ever occurring.
“After the game, we’ve never had any kind of incident,” Harbaugh said.
In this case, Harbaugh said, and video confirms, two Wolverine players — Gemon Green and Ja’Den McBurrows — tried to walk up the tunnel while the majority of the State team were also leaving the field.
Video later showed both players being beaten by Spartan players. Green, who was not wearing a helmet, was being hit by one player who swung a helmet at him. Green’s family told ESPN that he was struck “with a helmet in the face, back and shoulder” and will seek to press criminal charges.
The 2nd Jumping harbaugh was referring to
Just kick them all off or suspend them pic.twitter.com/SWooBiVTLo
— GBP (@GoBluePoole) October 30, 2022
In a separate cell phone video, McBurrows was surrounded by at least half a dozen State players who took turns punching, kicking and slamming him into a wall.
Harbaugh said Green was first attacked and McBurrows tried to come to his aid. Both were injured. Harbaugh is unsure of their future availability.
“They were walking up the tunnel together,” Harbaugh said. “Can see that in the video. Gemon was punched and then Ja’Den was trying to help. I’ll let the investigation proceed from there. … They’ve given all their statements to the police.”
Harbaugh had no interest in blaming the physical construct of the tunnel, let alone pointing at Tucker or any one other than the State players.
“Those are [the] people that are accountable,” Harbaugh said. “The video shows four, five, six on one and four, five, six on another dragging them. Ja’Den was pulled into a — you saw it — kind of where the media is in that hallway.”
The so-called “ABC video” has not been released, even though you’d think ABC/ESPN would want to show it. The school said there are also surveillance cameras above each locker room in the tunnel. Perhaps that is the video Harbaugh saw.
Either way, Harbaugh was on the offensive and clearly has no fear of being contradicted in what he is saying. His guys are innocent. The State guys are guilty. And he wants real justice.
“An apology will not get the job done in [this] instance,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan State’s president and athletic director both apologize for the incident over the weekend. Tucker added one Monday, although nothing directly to the Wolverine players involved.
“There should be serious consequences for the many individuals that it’s called for,” Harbaugh said.
Tucker, meanwhile, kept citing the need to let the investigation play out. However, if there was clear evidence that could soften the blame on his team or players, let alone exonerate or explain their actions, then it is highly unlikely MSU would allow itself to get raked over the public relations coals like this.
Tucker kept reiterating this was a “small number of players,” which belies the video. The four suspended players — starters Angelo Grose and Zion Young and reserves Tank Brown and Khary Crump – can have almost no contact with the football program — they are basically limited to academic support. It’s difficult to imagine any of them ever playing again for State.
“The incidents involving a small group of our players do not represent our culture,” Tucker said. “We are not here to make any excuses for the behaviors on Saturday, they are not acceptable.”
Tucker was asked about that culture, which is rich with slogans and sayings but seemed to fail in the moment. No matter how small or big the number of perpetrators there were, the publicly available videos show none of the Michigan State teammates trying to step in to break up the fight, protect the Michigan players or diffuse the situation in any way.
Tucker, whose program is a disappointing 3-5 on the field and dealing with this embarrassment off of it, was left with little room. He kept trying to play down specifics due to the integrity of the investigation and wanted to talk about an upcoming game against Illinois.
It won’t be that easy. This is still heating up, with more videos, questions and perhaps arrests to come.