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Why did sports columnists largely sit out the Lynx/Kroll episode?

Minnesota Lynx captains
Minnesota Lynx
Left to right: Minnesota Lynx captains Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus speaking to the press last Saturday night.

One of the problems with having “a frank national conversation” about any topic, race and police violence included, is that a lot of people, especially the most ardent partisans, have a default mechanism that demands their view be at center stage and sucking up the most air.

Case in point: the flap this week over Minnesota Lynx players wearing warm-­up T-­shirts expressing their views on the killing of Philando Castile, the five Dallas cops and other recent violence. Four off­-duty city cops walked off their free-lance security jobs at Target Center in protest and Minneapolis Police union president Bob Kroll weighed in, like a sledgehammer on a moth, a move that earned his remarks the apt description of “jackass” from Mayor Betsy Hodges. Additionally, we had an op-ed and an editorial in the Star Tribune that whipped up enough hostile emotion that protesters took their cause to the ground atrium of the paper’s offices.

And we’re not done yet. In some of the crannies of social media there were complaints that other than Mark Rosen, WCCO­-TV’s long-­tenured sports anchor, not one of the two cities’ hard­-boiled columnists, metro variety or sports, waded into the Lynx/Kroll episode, as ripe a target for passionate commentary as you could hope for. The predictable explanation for the Strib’s absence on the topic being that since Lynx owner Glen Taylor also owns the Strib, his employees know enough not to go and get all stupid and annoy the boss. Either that or, somewhat more plausibly, you don’t go publishing anything that gets reporters crosswise with the cops. It’s just bad mojo, access and source­wise. Bottom line, according to this analysis: Don’t add anything more beyond straight reporting.

Says Mark Rosen, “All I said, following a ‘Reality Check’ Pat Kessler did, was something to the effect of, ‘Sorry Sgt. Kroll, but the Lynx players have every right to speak up about something like this.’ I mean, the players did it in a very moderate tone in their pre­game press conference. And the shirts, right on them, had the shield of the Dallas Police. I kind of think the cops missed that, but I don’t know.

“What bothers me, really bothers me, though, with the attitude of Kroll, is this kind of ‘You run along now ladies and bake cookies’ thing. It’s a form of the old ‘Everyone has to stay in their lane’ thinking, where athletes should just play their game and stay out of the serious stuff going on all around them. I mean, what would Muhammad Ali say to something like that?”

Positive feedback

Rosen said feedback on his comments was “98 percent positive, except for Twitter, which as we all know can turn into a sewer pretty quick.”

As I said previously, complimenting both WCCO-AM host John Williams and Strib gossip columnist Cheryl Johnson for bringing thoughtful perspectives to a hellaciously bad week in race and police relations, a fair chunk of the public segregates its news consumption in venues outside straight news reporting and what might be called academic give and take. A genuinely full, frank conversation about issues as indisputably critical as police­-minority interaction kind of requires people like gossip columnists and TV sports anchors to make their contributions. At the very least to expand the breadth of the discussion.

So what’s the problem with local sports columnists? You want subject matter that has at least been on the radar of every reader you’ve ever had? The combination of (championship) pro sports, PO’d cops and “jackass” is as juicy as it gets, with the possible exception of another Whizzinator incident.

“I hate to say it,” says Strib assistant sports editor Dennis Brackin, “but right now it’s kind of a staffing issue.” Sports columnist Jim Souhan, the most likely go­-to for an opinion perspective on the confluence of citizen ­athletes and cops, is currently on vacation. (A column on the Twins’ second-­half potential was written before he left.) Pat Reusse, who most of us would be interested in reading on something like this, “only writes a couple times a week,” and Jerry Zgoda is away from basketball working on Ryder Cup activities. (Reusse did submit a poignant piece on the white cocoon so many Minnesotans of his era grew up in.) Meanwhile, regular Lynx reporters Kent Youngblood and Chip Scoggins are temporarily stretched thin handling other duties.

Minneapolis Police union president Bob Kroll
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Minneapolis Police union President Bob Kroll

In fairness, Scoggins, Youngblood, Zgoda and Jim Paulsen, another reporter working on and off the local pro basketball beat, are solid meat and potatoes beat writers. Commentaries on white-hot social issues are not what they’re paid to do.

Brackin, who was in the midst of assembling a package for this Sunday’s section on athletes' use of social media, defends his section’s coverage of the Lynx/cops/Kroll episode, which has been just fine, saying, “Personally, I’m not sure it needs commentary from us," he said. "But if any of them, Souhan or Reusse, or any of the others want to write something about it we have no problems with that.”

Maybe, but as I say, when you have something as big as the Philando Castile killing roiling your front yard, and your local team (and local cops, and mayor) making national news for a related incident, there’s a beach ball waiting on the tee for anyone who dares to take a swing.

Strib editorial on I-94 shutdown

The Strib’s editorial page did that in the context of the Black Lives Matter protest that shut down I-­94 in St. Paul last Saturday. Partisans far to the left of Sgt. Kroll didn’t care for lines like this: “The decision to charge does not impede First Amendment free speech rights, but it does send an unmistakable message that when protest veers into violence and blatant lawbreaking, there will be consequences. As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has said before, the ‘occupation’ of freeways must come to a halt. Such reckless excesses do the movement no good, and the ensuing, hours-­long, nighttime standoff set the stage for the reprehensible violence that followed, whether protest leaders take responsibility for it or not.”

They were even less happy with ex-­cop Richard Greelis’ commentary on police reacting to the “gangster look” of (some) young black men. “It is a logical view for police, since it is based on years of dealing with this segment of society, day after day after day. This segment is very criminally prolific and dangerous. It has been known to deal, on a daily basis, in drugs, weapons, prostitution, rape, extortion and murder. We all know the Black Elephant in the Room.”

Greelis lost me if he was trying to make a connection between the gangbanger look and ‘tude and a guy, his girlfriend and a little kid simply driving down the street. But it was, and deserved to be, part of that “frank national conversation” fretful politicians and civic leaders are forever encouraging us to have. Who, after all, doubts that Greelis’ view is shared by a lot of cops, even those in far better control of their nerves than the guy who killed Castile?

Based on innumerable other hot­-button controversies over the years, my suspicion is that people raging at the Strib for publishing either piece are unfamiliar with or indifferent to the purpose of opinion pages. Not to belabor the obvious, but the point of that part of a newspaper is to air out a community’s ideological laundry — thoughtful, shuttered, soiled ... whatever — in hopes of arriving at some set of shared perceptions. There’s no rule that says all of it must be pretty or agreeable to everyone. More to the point, you don’t want it to be.

But, in the context of the Lynx/Kroll matter, sports pages, generally an escapists’ sanctuary from realities uglier than the Twins won-­loss record, should be encouraged to add its voice(s) when something is this big and this hot and is raging at their front door.

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Comments (19)

Well said

A most thoughtful column.

Indeed…

Well said.

The Lynx players' "statement" included the Dallas Police, and was absolutely relevant while being, as statements go, pretty mild-mannered. It was the cops who walked off the job who had something to apologize for. They and Lt. Kroll were the ones who, I thought, went over the top. We don't need a Constitutional amendment to protect the speech with which we agree. The 1st Amendment entitles *everyone* to have and express opinions, including opinions with which, almost always, some people will not agree or approve.

The Strib barely reports on the Lynx games themselves

Thank you for this article. The Strib barely reports on the Lynx games themselves; I'm not surprised they failed to take notice of and write about this situation.

Who is "us" and what is "us" doing?

Did anyone ask those Lynx players about the "us" on their shirts? If "Change begins with us," i wonder what activities those four in the picture are involved in.

Have they done any get-out-the-vote campaigns for minorities in our communities? That would be a good thing for "us" to do.

The media and police

Chew on this: "don’t go publishing anything that gets reporters crosswise with the cops."

What ever happened to a well-informed citizenry? No wonder many are perplexed about the treatment of minorities by the police. Reporters don't want to rankle the rank and file, so sweep the stories of unequal treatment by police under the rug.

Spot on for noting all of the media's excuses for not more coverage and commentary.

Professionalism

The biggest problem with police is not the bad apples among them but rather a culture that ignores or covers up highly questionable actions. This problem calls for an insistence on professionalism at all levels.

Off duty police are not hired simply because they seek extra income, but because a standard of professional security for an event has been established. Taking their ball and going home put the players and fans at risk, unprotected by security. When individual officers don't seem to understand this, and when their union leadership is equally thick headed, they further betray a lack of professionalism.

Police could go a long way to proving their commitment to professionalism by insisting their union leaders do so as well.

Well done

Thank you, this is a thoughtful piece. I did notice decent coverage on tv news last night of the nearly sold-out game and significant fan support of the Lynx, and their foray into social justice commentary. "Overblown incident" was the comment from the police union. I believe the fan support continues with "Bob Kroll depreciation night " this Friday. Looking forward to it.

Reusse had a mild column about it Saturday

Seemed to say, essentially, "We're here for the game."

The purpose of sports columnists

My impression is that sports columnists are people-well, mostly guys, but still people-who are paid to provide a running commentary on the players and their teams and things to do in general vis-a-vis the game or sport itself. When players make statements about their world with anything to do with matters outside of the sport itself, that's political and rightly falls outside of the realm of "sorts reporting" or "sports columnisting", I think. If Marc Rosen expressed his views on this hot-button issue, good for him, but I think really falls outside the purview of a sports columnist.

It would be another thing if say, as basketball players, they were protesting the policies of the \NCAA or the NBWL because that would involve a "political" issue but one which had to do with the game. I wonder if sports columnists couldn't do a better job of reporting and investigating the "political dimensions" of modern sports. I read a book about the NCAA and its long-time treatment of basketball and football players and their families by Joe Nocera which amazes me. I've never heard much about that on the sports pages.

Just as the Lynx players had the right to

wear what they want for shirts the police have the right not to work their games. There is nothing wrong in each case. Sports reporters need to write about sports. Leave politics out of the one area where folks can get a break from the ever divisive world of politics.

The Rights of the Police

"[T]he police have the right not to work their games." Except that they had been hired to work the game, and had agreed to do so. That kind of limits their right to a hissy fit, don't you think?

Suppose you hired an employee who decided he didn't want to show up because a customer looked cross-eyed at him. Would you just shrug it off as an exercise of his rights?

Yes RB the police officers had the right to leave.

If they signed a contract to work and broke that contract, the Lynx can seek restitution. The police feel BLM speaks too much hate speech that in turn causes more danger to them. When BLM chants "What do we want... dead cops... when do we want them... now" and "pigs in a blanket fry them like bacon" I can see their point. So for the police to make a statement that violence towards their fellow officers is not acceptable and leave the game is fine with me.

I find it hilarious that the liberal left claims "hissy fit" when police officers feel that a group is out to do bodily harm and leave but get behind the college kids that need a safe space because a conservative speaker is on campus. I guess it is a matter of your perspective and value system.

On a final note cold blooded assassination of police officers by individuals that claim they want to kill cops is a bit different than a cross-eyed glance. Again I guess it is a matter of your perspective and values.

As a Certain Former President Put it Recently

"Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions."

It's convenient to look for the most extreme examples of hate speech and attribute them to the entire BLM movement, isn't it? That way, there is no need to address their real concerns, concerns which should matter to everyone interested in civil society. If, however, all we are interested in is demonizing those "other people," we can just take the worst examples as being the paradigm. So much easier that way.

"I find it hilarious that the liberal left claims 'hissy fit' . . ." I find it hilarious when the right-wing takes a comment one person makes, attributes it to all liberals, and then proceeds to bring up an entirely unrelated topic. Personally, I think "safe spaces" are absurd. Now what?

"On a final note cold blooded assassination of police officers by individuals that claim they want to kill cops is a bit different than a cross-eyed glance." Sorry, but I seemed to have missed the story telling how the Lynx were assassinating police officers, or saying even that they wanted to do so.

I will continue to form my opinion

by talking to actual police officers, sheriffs and others that wear a badge. You can get your opinions from where ever you like. BLM has a history of language that incites violence against police, actual violence against police and the police know this has not helped them protect and serve. The "hiisy fit" you say police showed by leaving the game reflects their feelings towards a movement that has made policing even more dangerous. Again I will say how you feel towards these 2 groups, police and BLM protesters, is a reflections of your values. I am sure the police didn't feel threatened by the Lynx players, they were making a statement about the BLM movement... Pretty self explanatory.... I value the difficult job cops have on a daily basis and their right to stand up for themselves when they feel threatened by a group with a history of violence versus them.

Great points Joe

It's interesting to note that those supporting BLM will ignore or never really address their attempts to incite violence. They simply attempt to deflect the issue by parsing their message. It's sad how they work so hard to distance the Lynx from the radical faction of the BLM, but are perfectly fine with lumping all cops into a group as The Enemy.

Your Point Being?

We can judge all of BLM and its supporters by the actions of the most extreme, but for law enforcement . . . What? "Wait until the facts are in?"

I've come to the conclusion that the real problem is not the attitude of the police, but the attitude of their supporters, who are so willing to enable bad behavior done in the name of "public safety."

"...when police officers feel

"...when police officers feel that a group is out to do bodily harm and leave"

Which group? The Lynx players? Their fans? Seriously?

If they're really that unsettled by the message of those t-shirts,they're really not suited to be police officers.

It should also be noted that they were the official MPD uniform, and carry their service weapon during these off the clock security gigs. Given that, and the fact they have the full authority of the law, they should be (and are-see Harteau's statement) expected to present themselves professionally as representatives of the MPD.

It seems to me that an issue is being missed....

While the cops have their right to an opinion, their badge says to protect and serve. The cops were working the game on their own time, however they would not have the job if they were not Minneapolis police. That infers that being a cop gives one an opportunity at jobs no one else can have. It also infers The cops were working the game on their owntime. It also infers that they carry The authority of the Minneapolis Police Department. And that means the city of Minneapolisand it's taxpayers are on the hook if their behavior veers into an area that involves excessive force or by us. As such, they represent the department as long as they wear the badge and the uniform. They abused that right by walking off a contracted job because of their political beliefs.

The attitude of the union chief shows that he feels entitled and above the law. The basketball players showed no disrespect to the police, made no threats of violence or disruption, and The statements were made by black and white players. Mr. Kroll's response shows that he feels he has the right to censure the free-speech of those that he claims to protect. All the time, he has the right to tax payer sponsored pensions, taxpayers sponsored projectionof his liability for actions and the right to exercise a force that can be used to both protect and intimidate.

Rather than writing a column, perhaps we should look at the police being responsible for their own liability when they are not on the job. Requiring them to carry personal liability insurance in able to work would reduce taxpayers being on the hook for arrogant self rules enforced by the union and would put some onus on the police to behave appropriately. This would not affect the police play who by the rules and are responsible, and would put appropriate risk onto a very police who give the department a bad name. That is accountability.

fiscal responsibility

Fiscal responsibility is a republican mantra. Looking at the cost of mpd legal settlements, personal liability should be a talking point in the next mayoral election.