Pacers offer powerful statements for Black Lives Matter


He never really knew.

Never understood what it was like to possess fear for driving black, being scared of driving through certain states because of skin color.

Kevin Pritchard, president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, has spent his entire life in the game at the University of Kansas and NBA, is 52 and just as white today as he was last week, but his soul is changed.

As coach, player and executive, he has worked with and befriended African Americans for decades, he revealed Friday afternoon, without truly comprehending the behind-the-scenes status of American race relations brought to the forefront by Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Tears in his eyes, pain in his heart, the video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis on instant replay in his mind, Pritchard was brutally frank with his emotions.

Watching the infamous video — more than once — led to Pritchard lapsing into profanity as part of his response.

“I think I saw pure evil,” Pritchard said, adding the policeman cutting off Floyd’s breathing with his knee was “so (blank) vile.”

Despite being part of the most progressive sports league in the United States, Pritchard said he had no idea how privileged it was to be white.

“It has been easy to be white,” he said.

Recently, Pritchard said he has been privy to a barrage of confidences spurred by the protests from angry, defiant and saddened African Americans.

Not only players but members of the Pacers’ front office staff have let him know, yes, they have encountered discrimination in the simplest and most blatant of ways in the most unlikely of places, making them feel vulnerable everywhere.

“It has been everybody,” Pritchard said. “My eyes and ears are open for the first time in my life.”

Pritchard began crying when referring to a story from a longtime team scout. The man told him he didn’t even feel comfortable going to the grocery store.

About 80% of the players in the NBA are people of color, and the majority of Pacers, too, plus coach Nate McMillan. Many are major contributors, including Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo.

“I’m angered and pained to see the images of racism across our country,” Pritchard said. “I want the Pacers to be part of the solution.”

Throughout 20th and 21st century American history, sports have been a unifying force. There is less time to hate when fans are rooting for their guys.

During his 12 years as heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Joe Louis was the most admired black man in the country. When Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he became a hero for breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

The first NBA African American pioneer players were Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper and Nat Clifton in 1950, and Bill Russell became the first African American coach in 1966.

In recent decades, the NBA has consistently opened doors wider to African American coaches, general managers and executives. That was within league confines, however.

Pritchard said he is now learning from African Americans about half his age, like Brogdon, 27, who also held a press conference Friday afternoon.

Brogdon has been in the front lines of Black Lives Matter demonstrations during these troubled times, in Atlanta, in Boston and delivering town hall speeches attended by hundreds of people.

One of Brogdon’s grandfathers marched for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a half-century ago. Brogdon comes from good genes and a family tree littered with people of conscience.

In one of his speeches, Brogdon paraphrased fiery African American author James Baldwin, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage.”

Brogdon may be in a rage but spoke calmly.

The result of the Civil War was supposed to cure racism, but all it did was abolish slavery, not change all minds. Dr. King, Rosa Parks and federal legislation were supposed to eliminate racism, so it is tragic and absurd in 2020 the issue is still at the forefront of everyday American life.

The NBA may return to action July 31, and if he thinks it appropriate and useful, Brogdon may organize an Indianapolis demonstration, its mission to give voice to people who otherwise would not have one.

“Now, it’s about actions,” he said. “It’s about solutions. It’s my time to stand up for what I believe. The biggest problem is being silent.”

Kevin Pritchard understands now.

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