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VOL. 132 | NO. 194 | Friday, September 29, 2017
Don Wade

Don Wade

For Fizdale, Conley, Speaking Out Is Part of The Job Now

By Don Wade

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This conversation? No, they didn’t imagine it. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale and point guard Mike Conley did not enter the NBA thinking they would someday be talking about national protests, a president that shoots from the lip, or Confederate statues in Memphis.

But times change. And sometimes, so do people.

“I feel like the comments that were made by the President started something that is good in the sense in the unity it has brought out,” Conley said. “Guys who were on fence (about) taking knees or protesting because they were nervous or afraid, cautious what somebody might think of them or the way media might take it … they’re all locked in arms.

“You see owners locked in arms. You see everybody taking a stance as one.”

The Dallas Cowboys – America’s Team, no less – perhaps showed the way for NFL protests by kneeling before the National Anthem during their recent Monday night game and standing with arms locked during the National Anthem. And, yes, owner Jerry Jones was right there with the players.

No doubt, Donald Trump never imagined his comments about NFL players protesting – the names he used or his call for team owners to fire players – would bring unity. But it’s noteworthy that it has and that the President couldn’t see that it would.

“My wife and I were laughing,” Fizdale said. “Why would you mess with team guys? Sports is the wrong place to go to create division. We lock arms and get even tighter. Our whole life we’ve been part of a locker room and a brotherhood.”

Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale speaks at Media Day at FedExForum on Monday, September 25. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

There are, of course, Americans who still believe sports is the wrong place for protest. But if sports is America’s unofficial seven-days-a-week religion – and like it or not, it is – then sports cannot be broken off into a, well, segregated category.

This is especially true in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the city continues to try and have Confederate statues removed from parks, including one of Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“It’s not in my nature to be that guy (speaking out),” Conley said, “but I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter. It’s not about me. It’s about the people. And whether I’m uncomfortable or not, I’ll still stand up for what’s right.

“I think the President doesn’t understand how he’s affecting people,” Conley added.

Consider Trump’s comment about the Charlottesville protests, when he said there were “very fine people” on both sides and thus included scores of racist demonstrators.

Whether the Grizzlies as a team choose to take some action before a game is yet to be determined; the NBA does have a rule requiring all players and coaches to stand during the National Anthem, but commissioner Adam Silver has been very supportive of players exercising their constitutional rights.

Fizdale says he will follow whatever his players do (back to team unity) and he chafes at the notion any of the protests have been disrespectful to the military. In fact, he says Trump has been disrespectful toward the military with his comments, including what he said about Sen. John McCain for being a POW during the Vietnam War.

“He was a war hero because he was captured,” Trump once said. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Said Fizdale: “We all live under that flag. The military are not fighting for the flag, they’re fighting for what it stands for.”

That includes the right to peaceful protest.

Conley believes if the Grizzlies did choose to make a statement before a game, fans at FedExForum would be supportive.

“They understand where our hearts are at and it’s not disrespect to our country, and not disrespect to service men and women,” he said. “It’s bigger than that issue. That’s not part of it.”

But speaking up for those who can’t, or don’t have the same power in their voice, is now part of the job description.

“I know I have a bigger platform,” Fizdale said. “I can sleep at night knowing I’m on the right side of history.”

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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