Back in early 2018, everybody got a good giggle out of then-Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox playing it to the social media hilt when he momentarily took over as governor while the real boss, Gary Herbert, was having surgery.
Cox made jokes about redecorating the office and getting that notch of territory that should be Utah’s northeast corner back from Wyoming. And superfan Cox mock-appointed Joe Ingles, a player on the Utah Jazz basketball team, as his lieutenant governor. All the kind of goofy fun and games that are Cox’s trademark. (Though it all would have all turned out to be in really bad taste if anything had gone wrong for Herbert on the operating table.)
Thursday, there was reason to wish that Joe Ingles really was Utah’s lieutenant governor. If, of course, his teammate Donovan Mitchell were also governor.
That’s because Mitchell and Ingles stepped up in a way that neither Cox nor any other elected official in Utah seems to have done. They spoke out strongly in response to the tragic death of a Davis County 10-year-old — Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor — who, according to her loved ones, died by suicide because she could no longer tolerate the bullying she was suffering at school, targeted for being Black and autistic.
That matters to people like Mitchell and Ingles, partly because they are decent human beings. Partly because Mitchell is Black and often speaks out against racism, in state were few other people do. Partly because Ingles and his wife have an autistic child and have gone public in an effort to help others.
Both spoke with the girl’s family and the Jazz offered a moment of silence in memory of Izzy before their game Thursday evening.
That was more, a lot more, than came from Cox or any other of the elected officials who are supposed to lead the public mourning when something like this happens. Something that Republicans, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and Democrats, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, were really good at.
All I could find from Cox was a meek two-sentence tweet:
My heart is broken for Izzy and her family. We must—and will—do more. https://t.co/9i43lR0wv7— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) November 10, 2021
Which was delivered with much less care and enthusiasm than his happy discovery of a new carne asada plate in a South Salt Lake restaurant.
To be fair, the governor’s Twitter feed also includes some good and compassionate statements about caring for the state’s veterans and making mental health care more available. Still, combined with the legalistic statement issued by the Davis School District, the official response to this tragedy just didn’t do the job.
So Jazz players picked up the loose ball and did what needed to be done. It’s another example of how so often some professional athletes and team executives, especially in the NBA, have risen to the occasion when real public officials just don’t, or can’t.
The league has a very troubling blind spot when it comes to dealing with China, not wanting to get their product banned in the world’s largest market. Otherwise, the ability of Commissioner Adam Silver and others to manage everything from racist owners to Black Lives Matter protests to a COVID-19 bubble stand in sad contrast to the ability of so many people who claim to lead the society as a whole.
And the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, posted a masterful takedown of NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his duplicitous statements about the COVID-19 vaccination that he didn’t really take, endangering himself and his teammates.
Now, for a minute there, It looked like I had picked the wrong week to say good things about members of the Utah Jazz basketball team.
The Thursday night game between the Jazz and the Indiana Pacers went poorly for the Jazz and ended with a scuffle that saw Ingles, Mitchell and Rudy Gobert get ejected. Maybe holding these guys up as our role models wasn’t such a good idea after all.
But everyone involved in the fracas was a grown man, in top shape, who was fully capable of defending himself. Nobody was a bully or a victim. Nobody really got hurt.
It just shows that compassion and toughness are things that truly strong people possess in equal measures.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, couldn’t watch the Jazz game Thursday because a bait and switch from Google TV to YouTube TV has left him without the necessary channel.