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  • FILE- In this March 14, 2017, file photo, Indiana Pacers' Myles Turner (33) reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks in New York.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 1:00 am

Pacers feel emboldened to stand with NFL players

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – It was a weekend unlike any we'd seen before with our president, Donald Trump, tweeting that Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors isn't welcome at the White House and lambasting NFL players who protest social inequality by refusing to stand during the national anthem.

“Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now – he's fired,” Trump told an Alabama crowd Friday before continuing to sound off on social media.

It prompted NFL players and owners, including some of Trump's biggest supporters such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to unify for demonstrations and statements around the league. On Monday, NBA teams continued the discourse.

“The NBA is a brotherhood. If you mess with one of our brothers, then every guy will feel the need to step up and say something about it,” the Indiana Pacers' Darren Collison said.

You can be sure that the Pacers, and just about every other NBA team, will have some sort of demonstrations in the future.

“Whatever we do, everybody's got to make sure we're on the same page and we've just got to try to do something for both sides,” Collison said. “It's hard to have equality when everybody's on different pages. I think the best thing to do is just try to communicate what you want to do, stand for what you believe in and hopefully it's the right thing to do.”

Those who say sports and politics shouldn't mix overlook the obligation for those such as Pacers star Myles Turner, who called Trump's comments “a little harsh” and creating “a tough situation.” Turner is one of the most popular public figures in Indiana and, like it or not, a role model. He has the stature in the community and the platform to try to enact change, and with that comes responsibility.

Unfortunately, not all the Pacers grasp that. Al Jefferson, not up on current events, asked without sarcasm: “I'm sorry, what happened over the weekend?” After being told the Warriors had been uninvited from the White House, Jefferson said, “That doesn't surprise me, but I don't do politics. ... I'm a basketball player. That's what I focus on.”

The normally outspoken Lance Stephenson said: “I don't want to get into (Trump). I'm going to just stay with Pacers basketball. That's between Golden State and Trump. I'm going to worry about my team and helping everybody get ready for the season. ... It's got nothing to do with me. I'm going to stay in the corner and watch.”

At this point, many have lost sight of what Colin Kaepernick was protesting when he first knelt for the anthem – police brutality and social injustice – and they're debating the acceptability of the demonstrations themselves. It's like the Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott; we're so caught up in scrutinizing suspension procedures that almost no one is talking about the alleged domestic violence.

To their credit, the Pacers – most of them anyway – seem to understand the difference, that if this were the era of Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, trying to force change would be a responsibility. Whether Trump was trying to wield power over today's often passive athletes or energize his conservative base, he did do something truly amazing by unifying NFL players and management in the era of Roger Goodell.

The actions of athletes in the wake of Trump's statements will be discussed for years to come and hopefully they are up to the task. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard believes his players are up to the task.

“I want to trust our guys and I want them to be socially active. I want them to express their opinions,” he said. “This is our youth. These are people who are the fabric of our community. The Colts, the Fever, the Pacers, those players give back with charities and why wouldn't we give them a voice?”

Justin A. Cohn is a senior writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by email jcohn@jg.net; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648.