Michigan State University apologizes for showing Hitler on jumbotron at football game

School suspends employee involved in showing photo shown during pregame trivia quiz that asked fans where Nazi leader was born

Michigan State University displayed an image of Adolf Hitler as part of a trivia quiz prior to a football game, Oct. 21, 2023. (Alexander Haenke/X via JTA)
Michigan State University displayed an image of Adolf Hitler as part of a trivia quiz prior to a football game, Oct. 21, 2023. (Alexander Haenke/X via JTA)

JTA — Michigan State University apologized after an image of Adolf Hitler was displayed on the school’s video board at its football game against the University of Michigan on Saturday.

The photo was shown during a pregame trivia quiz at Spartan Stadium that came from the YouTube page The Quiz Channel. The question asked where Hitler was born.

The incident comes at a time of heightened fear and tension in the American Jewish community, which is reeling from the violence in Israel and the shocking murder of a Jewish community leader in Detroit on Saturday.

“I am deeply sorry for the offensive image we displayed on the Spartan Stadium video boards Saturday night,” the university’s athletic director Alan Haller said in a statement on Sunday. “I apologize for 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 in antisemitism, including acts of violence.”

Haller said an employee was suspended with pay while the department investigates the incident, and added that his staff did not fully review the video before it was shown on Saturday, “exposing a failure in our process.”

Michigan State spokesman Matt Larson told the Associated Press that “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.”

After Michigan State’s use of the image circulated online, the owner of the YouTube page responded in a comment on the original video, saying that the school did not seek permission for its use.

“To be clear, I was unaware Michigan State University is using my content for stadium entertainment and this was unsolicited and unauthorized use,” Floris van Pallandt wrote. “A random history trivia question in an inappropriate setting.”

The university’s interim president, Teresa Woodruff, also apologized Sunday.

“I am deeply sorry for the image displayed at Spartan Stadium, which made many of our community feel alienated and unsafe,” she said, according to the AP. “It was unacceptable. I asked last evening for a full review of this university event and will take all necessary steps to align our messages and actions to our values.”

Haller added that he would reach out to local Jewish community groups so they can “hear directly from me regarding our failed responsibilities as well as our promise to do better.” He denounced antisemitism and said it was important that he work to re-earn the community’s trust.

Matthew Berry, a Jewish NBC Sports analyst with a wide social media following, was one of many to react to the incident over the weekend.

“In a world where Jewish people are being killed and tortured every single day Michigan State puts a picture of Hitler on its massive scoreboard as a wacky trivia answer like he’s a movie star or something. Unbelievable,” Berry wrote to his 1.1 million followers on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

In a later post, Berry also noted that the employee allegedly behind the video was suspended with pay. “In almost any other job, posting a photo of Hitler in a lighthearted way would get you immediately fired. At Michigan State you get a paid vacation. Unreal,” Berry wrote.

Michigan State lost the game 49-0.

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