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Patrick Kinahan: Jazz owner not interested in censoring her players' beliefs

By Patrick Kinahan, Contributor | Posted - Sep. 15, 2020 at 10:13 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — All the tremendous amount of political posturing and social activism that is forcefully dominating the country sometimes has put Gail Miller in an uncomfortable position as a community leader.

As the Utah Jazz owner, she is expected to offer insight on divisive topics that often generate extreme emotion on various sides. The sticky part arises when Jazz players come down strong on issues that some in the community vehemently disagree with and don’t appreciate.

"It’s a very difficult place to be because we don’t want to offend anyone," Miller said during an interview on The Zone Sports Network, which her family owns. "We feel like we are the community's team and we would like to be able (for) everyone to feel good about us and our mission, vision and values, which have not changed and will not change."

In particular, Jazz star Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken on law enforcement’s policing of African-Americans in the country. Without prompting, he initiated the activism during interviews he gave when the NBA resumed practicing and playing games two months ago.

Mitchell, who turned 24 last week, also frequently promotes his views on social media as he seeks justice for African-Americans either killed or injured by police. After a video surfaced on police shooting a man in Wisconsin last month, Mitchell was vocal on Twitter.

His Aug. 24 tweet in all capital letters read, in part: "THIS IS SICK AND IS A REAL PROBABLE WE DEMAND JUSTICE!"

At the time of his tweet, the Jazz led the Denver Nuggets 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference playoffs. The Nuggets went on to win the series, which was interrupted after NBA players decided to stop playing for two days.

As part of the organization’s values, the owner believes in freedom of expression.

"I can’t be the censor for the community," she said. "People will say, 'How can you let your players do what they’re doing?' It’s a very interesting place to be, and I don’t really want to go any further than that except to say I believe in freedom of speech. I also love the flag. I love the country. I believe in respect for all people."

In a sports-crazed community, the BYU and Utah faithful are often at odds with each other over their football and basketball teams. The Jazz have been the great unifier, drawing all types together with their fandom.

But now a vocal number of fans vow to turn away from the Jazz and the NBA in general, angry at the activism that includes players kneeling during the national anthem and wearing social justice statements on their jerseys. The NBA also has painted Black Lives Matter on the courts.

"I would just ask people to search their soul and decide for themselves what their beliefs are," Miller said. "I think all we can do is to allow each other to have the right to freely express, as guaranteed in the Constitution, and we have to be able to look on the side of doing the right thing."

None of this is meant to suggest her personal views always are at odds with all the NBA and its players are doing. In many ways, she is sympathetic to the overall cause.

"I understand the Black community has been suppressed for hundreds of years," she said. "And I do think right now momentum has changed to where they have an opportunity to do something better, that we can do better as a country in making sure that everyone has equal opportunity. I know people have been offended and I’m sorry for that. I just feel like each one of us has to determine for ourselves what we stand for and where we’re going and what we will support. I allow all people the right to do that and don’t want to censor anyone."

During the radio interview in which she was supporting Salt Lake Community College, she summed up her thoughts by saying: "My philosophy is you don’t learn to love people until you serve them. And when you serve for a common goal, that’s when you really learn that all people are worthy of your compassion and your love."

Patrick Kinahan

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