Anthony Ianni talks anti-bullying, motivation
When Anthony Ianni was 4, he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, which is on the autism spectrum. At the age of 5, his parents were told by doctors that they should not expect their son to do much or be much in life. He may or may not barely graduate high school and he’d live in a group home.
Ianni proved them all wrong. He graduated from Michigan State University and became the first known individual with autism to play Division I college basketball. Under legendary MSU coach Tom Izzo, Ianni played with the 2010 and 2012 Big Ten Champion and Tournament Championship teams, and the 2010 Final Four team.
He has won a number of awards including MSU’s Tim Bograkos Walk-On Award, the 2012 MSU Unsung Player Award, and was named a 2013 Detroit Pistons Community Game Changer Finalist.
“My parents didn’t tell me about that conversation they’d had with the doctors until I was a freshman in high school,” Ianni said at the Herrick Library on Tuesday, Oct. 10. “That became a motivation for me to prove them wrong.”
Ianni, an Okemos native, is now trying to motivate others, particularly kids, with the Relentless Tour, an anti-bullying initiative from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Autism Alliance of Michigan. In addition to the library talk, Ianni also spoke earlier on Tuesday to the Boys and Girls Club of Holland. It’s the second time Ianni has been in Holland, after a Relentless Tour stop in 2015.
Ianni’s tour speeches are two-fold. His first priority is to try to reduce bullying, particularly the bullying of students of autism. Ianni said an estimate 65 to 90 percent of individuals with autism have been victims of bullying a some point in their lives.
Ianni himself was a target for bullying due to his autism and his size. He was 6 feet tall by the time he was 11, eventually reaching the height of 6 feet, nine inches.
“I had a tough time growing up understanding nouns, verbs, sarcasm, jokes and idioms,” he said. “If you were to tell 5-year-old me it was raining cats and dogs, I’d go run outside hoping to get a cat or dog from the sky.”
Ianni wants to increase awareness of bullying and autism, encouraging students and community members in general to speak up if they see bullying happening.
“It’s on us as community to advocate for those being bullied every day,” he said. “If we don’t have more voices preaching, what’s the point? If you don’t say something, you’re just as in the wrong as other person.”
Ianni also reminds people that they should be careful what you say to do to others in life, since you never know what they could become in the future. He noted that many celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Eminiem and Rihanna were all victims of bullying.
Ianni’s tour speeches also focus on finding motivation in adversity. He overcame the bullies by using their hate and doubt as motivation, pushing himself to be successful through hard work and the support of his family, friends, teachers, coaches and teammates.
“I got a goal in life, make an impact and leave an impact,” he said. “There are 3.5 million individuals in our country with autism. I put 3.5 million on my back every day. An entire community needs a voice. Who is going to step up? I’ll do that. They need that voice. They need that every day.”