Monday, July 13, 2020

Wallace saga: I’ll take that ending

| June 24, 2020 6:39 PM

As the Bubba Wallace story winds down to the best possible outcome, I’ve already had my fill of Facebook acquaintances posting a star wrench with a crack about crosses.

Just don’t. Or do, so I can take you off the list.

As I look back on a pretty lengthy personal and professional life, I note that the best time of my career was also the toughest – the nine years spent covering Montana Grizzlies football.

I am reminded of that time by the Black Lives Matter protests. I come from a lily-white small Montana town and am sickened by what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and countless others. Now change seems possible.

At times in those nine college football seasons I felt completely out of my depth. The Griz had their issues: Jimmy Wilson’s murder trial happened while I was at the Missoulian; so did the highly-publicized rape trial of Jordan Johnson.

Let’s start there – one incident in 2006 and another in 2012. Which were you invested in more? What I remember is that Johnson seemed unlikely to be convicted and that Wilson was facing long odds: Los Angeles County, I later learned, convicted 98 percent of defendants up on murder charges.

I’ll let you guess which player was white. In case you wondered, Johnson was found not guilty and Wilson was acquitted.

I worked with or around many black athletes while covering the Griz and my only professional complaint was a player not returning a call. These were for the most part, whatever the player’s race, superficial relationships. If a guy didn’t want to talk, I shined it on.

That said, I couldn’t begin to walk in a black person’s shoes. I think back to pre-teen BB gun exploits inside Harlowton’s city limits, riding a motorcycle somewhat legally in unincorporated Colstrip, and other way more stupid stuff, and note how lucky I had it.

A simple way to look at this is black Americans were and are being over-policed, while I myself can only attest to being under-policed.

None of which kept me from feeling, on those occasions when I’d gotten my comeuppance, that I had just been over-policed. I’m pretty sure that is privilege.

So when I read about Jay Pharoah, formerly of Saturday Night Live, being detained in April while jogging and having a policeman kneel on his neck, I wonder why. I am reminded of Taylor’s death every day and wonder how it often takes months to formally charge officers for terrible actions.

While COVID-19 makes its way back to the top of the headlines, I’ll note that Black Lives Matter, with the key word being “matter” – not matter more or matter less, just matter. That saying, “A few bad apples,” leaves out the important end of the phrase: “ruins the whole bunch.”

That nobody should ever start a statement with, “I’m not racist…” because, well, just don’t.

I’ll also remind myself that Wallace didn’t find or report the noose – it was a crew member. NASCAR took over and did its due diligence.

On Wednesday Wallace noted, “How relieved I am that the investigation revealed that this wasn’t what we feared it was,” and that, “We’ll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been.”

Not that he needs me to be, but I’m good with that.

Sports reporter Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or at