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  • VAUGHT: Kentucky players: Without action, nothing happens

    By LARRY VAUGHT

    Timing can be everything and Kentucky senior offensive lineman Luke Fortner knows in 20 years it won’t really matter if UK did or did not practice football Thursday.

    He also knows that Thursday was the time him and teammates could do something to show support for ongoing protests against social injustice in our country that could be noticed.

    “In a year or two that platform will not be here (for current UK players). We will still have opinions but people are not going to listen,” Fortner said during a Zoom media conference to explain why the UK players voted as a team not to practice.

    Teammate Josh Paschal, a defensive lineman, said they were hoping to educate other and show “we really care for each other and we are a true brotherhood and family here.”

    I asked Fortner what message he hopes Thursday’s action by the Kentucky players sent to high school athletes in Kentucky.

    “I think the No. 1 message for high school athletes, or students, is the biggest thing you can do personally is reach out to someone you know who suffered something similar or even if not, reach out and say I am here,” Fortner said.

    “Be willing to listen and take action with that knowledge. Reach out and listen to each other and embrace each other’s differences. Starting when you are young if you listen to people and what they struggle with you can learn a lot.”

    That includes the UK players who found out Thursday they have a teammate who had a cousin shot and killed by police. He was reaching for his insurance papers but first moved his drum sticks (he played in the band).

    “Police shot and killed him on the scene and the police were never charged,” Paschal said. “We had someone directly affected by that issue right in our (meeting) room.”

    Australian punter Max Duffy brought a different perspective by telling the players there is such diversity in America compared to other countries that the issue might be “how many different people live here” because of so many races and cultures in our country.

    “He stressed we could not know every single person but to make an effort to understand every different person,” Fortner said.

    Many UK fans seemed to support/understand what the players did — the decision was made after they showed up for practice and the leadership council opted to not practice — but others were critical. Paschal expected that.

    “I am educated enough to speak on this topic. I went through this as black man in America,” Paschal said. “When people say shut up and dribble or just stick to football, *that gets under my skin. At the end of the day, we are all the same.”

    He said it “hurts” having fans put the players down for taking a stance and seeing them only as athletes — even though he admitted he had been treated with “great privilege” in Lexington because he is an athlete.

    “When we leave this facility we want fans to know that we can have opinions. They may not be the same as theirs but we are all human. I respect their opinions and they just need to respect ours. This is a human rights issue, not a political issue. We should all be united in this fight against police brutality,” Paschal said.

    “Without action nothing happens. What we did today is going to be the talk around Kentucky.”

    Paschal said if the team’s action can influence just a “couple of people” to change how they raise kids to treat everyone with respect as they grow up then it will all be worthwhile.