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SPORTS: What are these 'professionals' thinking? They're not

September 17, 2007

An open letter to the Indiana Pacers Shawne Williams (boy, are these open letters to Pacers fun):

My first question, Shawne: What were you thinking?

But then, it's obvious you weren't thinking or, if you were, it was only about yourself and not the team or town

Here's something else that probably hasn't occurred to you: Because of you, the highly respected Donnie Walsh and one of the greatest to ever put on a basketball uniform, Larry Bird, are being trashed ... in the media, by fans, and just about anybody and everybody who has an opinion on the state of the Indiana Pacers franchise.

It's a fine mess you've gotten them into but, hey, as long as the checks don't bounce, life is good, right?

Poor Bird and Walsh, caught in a recurring nightmare. It starts with the latenight/early-morning phone call. Then come the police report and mug shot, followed by the calls from the media, first demanding a statement and then accountability. Huddling with the PR types and lawyers to determine what they can and cannot say.

Bird and Walsh are getting hammered-and I mean pounded, son-for not demanding proper behavior from their players. I can assume-no, I know-that the last message delivered to you by Bird before you departed for summer playtime contained these messages:

A. Work hard in the off season to improve your game.

B. Stay out of trouble.

C. Stay out of trouble.

D. Stay out of trouble.

At best, you're one out of four ... kind of like your shooting percentage.

Shawne, it might have occurred to you while you were sitting in the slammer that you could mess up a 24-karat opportunity, not just here in Indiana, but with your life.

Those friends, those homeboys you're hanging with? Some friends. A 32-year-old toting a stolen gun. The other going one toke over the line. You? Yeah, the pot wasn't yours. Or, you didn't inhale. Whatever.

I know you're only 21 and goodness knows many of us don't want to revisit the stoopidity-oops, I mean stupidity-that marked that time of our lives. But certainly, Shawne, even though you're obviously not the brightest bulb in the drawer, you understand that the big contract and the spotlight that goes with it put you several levels above most 21-year-olds in terms of responsibility.

But back to the organization, Shawne. Those would be the fine folks who work in sales, marketing, PR, game-day operations and those who take care of that fine building constructed mostly at taxpayer expense.

They've been working their butts off since the day after last season to win back the fans some of your teammates, exercising that same me-first mentality as you, have turned off with their off-court antics the past couple of years.

Those folks don't drive Escalades, Shawne, but everyday vehicles with 100,000 miles or so on them. Their livelihoods, and those of their families, depend a lot on what you- yes, you -do.

You know, it wouldn't be a bad idea to sit down and write each and every one of them a note of apology.

Your teammates are owed the same. They are again being cast as "thugs" and "punks" even though most of them have never broken the law and are smart enough to know their realm of responsibility doesn't stop at the end of their noses.

Oh, and what a swell introduction to your new coach, Jim O'Brien. Way to impress.

Yes, Shawne, I understand the concept of innocent until proven guilty, and I was impressed that the smartest thing you did was to have attorney Jim Voyles on your speed dial. By the time this matter is adjudicated, Voyles might even be able to prove your innocence, or at least get you the lightest sentence possible. I mean, on the face of it, no valid driver's license, a lapsed license plate and a little pot in the car (that stolen gun is your friend's problem) don't exactly add up to 10 years.

But in the court of public opinion, in the minds of potential ticket-purchasers, and to the franchise that was desperately trying to wipe the slate clean and begin anew, you have done immense harm.

And I, for one, hope the Pacers will do everything within their limited powers to make you an example. Again, I know, you're only 21. But you're playing with the big boys now, son. Otherwise, you should have stayed in college. One other question: How possibly can you explain this to your mom? Sincerely, Just a guy



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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