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Gordon Monson: Did Dennis Lindsey lie? Did Elijah Millsap? Here’s the key thing to take away from their dispute.

Only those in the room know what was said six years ago, but I do know that the Utah Jazz VP is not a racist, nor is he racially insensitive

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey speaks with the media following their season-ending game at the team practice facility on Thursday, April 25. 2019.

Did Dennis Lindsey say during an exit interview six years ago what former Jazz player Elijah Millsap now says he said? Namely, that the Jazz vice president — at that time the general manager — threatened in a moment of anger to send his “Black ass” back to Louisiana?

Answering that question was a pressing challenge both the NBA and the Jazz faced by way of an investigation into Millsap’s accusation, an accusation Lindsey denied, a challenge that reached its conclusion this past week with this proclamation:

“The investigation was unable to establish that the alleged statement was made.”

That announcement from the league iterated that “all participants” in the 2015 meeting “were interviewed and given the opportunity to provide any relevant evidence, including both Millsap and Lindsey.” Those other parties on hand were Jazz coach Quin Snyder and current GM Justin Zanik.

So, what are we supposed to make of that?

More importantly, where do the Jazz go from here?

Each question is significant.

Anytime someone is accused of doing or saying something, it carries with it a certain amount of damage, whether it was actually done or said or not. If you’re Lindsey, and you didn’t use those words, how frustrating would that false claim be? And how dissatisfying would the investigation’s conclusion be, given that “unable to establish” isn’t exactly declarative in clearing Lindsey’s name?

On the other hand, why would Millsap lie about such a thing all these years later? What would he have to gain? Is it because he thought he was being bullied by Lindsey, treated in an unfair manner, disrespected and tossed aside? Is it because he wanted a measure of revenge? In the aftermath, he likely garnered some support and a whole lot of negative reaction, people on the outside calling him, among other nasty things, a liar.

It’s one of those unsolvable conundrums, a deal where not even those on hand remember with any exactness what was said in that meeting. There was no written evidence. No text, no note, no physical proof. Although, if such a phrase were used, you might expect someone other than the man on the receiving end of it to have remembered its use, especially people of character like Snyder and Zanik.

Either way, Millsap himself said he doesn’t believe Lindsey is a racist, but he felt moved in the climate of our times to bring the allegation forward.

I do not know if Millsap is a liar, or if he is an honest man.

But I do not believe Lindsey to be racist or racially insensitive.

Would he ever use the phrase he is accused of using? Beats me. I’ve talked to him hundreds of times and never heard him speak in such a manner, and if he did, I’d confront him on it, as would most of the people who work around him. Here’s the thing: Based on what I know about Lindsey, he would want them to confront him were he ever to say such a thing.

Lindsey does have a temper and he can be demonstrative, rough at times on the folks inside and out of his circles. But he also cares about racial justice and propriety. We’ve had discussions between us regarding such matters long before Millsap’s accusation arrived.

The most recent one was a text exchange in early February, after I wrote a column regarding what could be, what must be done to successfully break the intergenerational transmission of racism from adults to children in Utah and elsewhere. And the role sports plays in such an interruption.

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, right, talks with Elijah Millsap during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

This was his reply:

“Gordon, thanks for the article two days ago. I was late reading it, but my wife said you knocked it out of the park! You did. Sport can lead in the area of diversity. We have a great state full of good people, which gives us a start to lead by being on the right side of this issue. But we cannot equivocate on [it]. There is just so much ignorance. When a basic historical period like Reconstruction comes up, I cannot believe how many educated people cannot hold a basic conversation on this issue and the problems with that period. Given the atrocities that came before and the point of racial equality now, it keeps me up at night. Keep spewing the truth. And feel free to share this text widely. I am proud of your efforts. It is way more important than a game, which ironically is illuminating this dynamic. Sincerely, Dennis.”

Does that sound like a man who would threaten to send someone’s “Black ass” out of town for speaking his mind?

The cynic might say Lindsey wrote what he wrote in an attempt to counter an accusation that he might have been tipped off was hurtling toward him.

That is not my belief. I think Lindsey was — is — sincere in expressing his true stance and overall lean into an important topic of our day, of every day, one that has been far too long in being properly addressed and altered and … fixed.

Lindsey wants it fixed. As should we all.

So we’re boxed out from any absolute, even after the investigation, not knowing precisely what took place, but also realizing the significance of the truth. That last part is important in any situation, in any circumstance, in any professional setting, but especially for a team in a league made up of players, 75 percent of whom are Black.

Already, the Jazz are seen by some around the NBA as a team on a predominantly white island. Both counts there are true. Utah’s Black population hovers just over one percent of the total, although it is growing year by year, especially among younger Utahns.

Those are numbers, but what about the perception generated by them? The perception of the value assigned to them?

It’s a perception that is not benefited when a fan — or a group of fans — uses racist epithets or negative verbal imagery in the arena during NBA games, aimed at opposing Black players, as has been the unfortunate case here and there in the past. The vast majority of Jazz fans do not participate in such behavior and find it abhorrent.

Former Jazz owner Gail Miller stood up in front of a packed house a couple of years ago and made it clear to anyone with ears to hear that such sick behavior would not be tolerated.

Good.

New majority owner Ryan Smith has said and meant similar things. In a recent conversation with me, he was adamant about, absolutely committed to doing whatever he could to stamp out racism and all its tentacles in every way and form within his reach. He said such stamping should have been done “hundreds of years ago.”

In conjunction with the findings of the recent investigation, the Jazz released the following statement:

“As an organization, we take all matters of this nature seriously and have zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior of any kind. We appreciate the thorough process of the NBA’s investigation and thank all parties involved for their full cooperation. The league’s investigation was done in coordination with independent, outside counsel. We respect the league’s process and results announced .… For more than 25 years, Dennis Lindsey has been a respected basketball executive around the NBA and a leading voice on social justice within our organization and community.”

The Jazz move on, then, as does Lindsey, stressing the importance of racial equality, racial justice and decency.

What happened in that room six years ago has been investigated, disputed by the two principals involved and forgotten by the others who were present. But the principles involved, the principles of justice and respect have been underscored, and must be remembered by one and all from now until freaking Kingdom Come.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the company that owns the Utah Jazz.

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