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Lightning's J.T. Brown spent day with Tampa police. Here's what happened

By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Lightning forward J.T. Brown and two teammates spent the day Friday in the Tampa Police Department's Citizens Police Academy. Those who participated in that day with Brown include (from left): From left to right: Sgt David Puig, Cpl Jared Douds, Capt Martin Gonzalez, Officer Jarda Bradford, Lightning forwards Gabriel Dumont and J.T. Brown, in red Cpl Kim Hill, Lightning center Vladislav Namestnikov, Capt Mike Hutner, training specialist Thomas Downes.

TAMPA— J.T. Brown spent Friday afternoon getting shot at during a traffic stop.

The bullets were blanks, of course, with the Lightning wing role-playing as a cop in the Tampa Police Department's Citizens Police Academy.

The red sedan Brown and Lightning teammate Gabriel Dumont pulled over was missing a tag.

They weren't expecting an ambush.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

"You realize, every time you leave the car it could be the last time," Dumont said.

Said Brown: "You see what they go through. I have a better understanding, I can guarantee you that."

That was the goal when Tampa interim police chief Brian Dugan extended the invitation to Brown last week.

Dugan had seen the viral image of Brown raising his fist during the national anthem of Oct. 7 game in Sunrise. Brown, one of about 30 black players in the NHL, followed a line of NFL players who have knelt or sat during the anthem in protest to raise awareness for police brutality and racial injustice.

Dugan figured he could address the issue by meeting with Brown in the Lightning dressing room Monday. Dugan said Brown offered his support for law enforcement while showing concern over racial injustice.

Dugan, the Lightning's former NHL security rep, welcomed Brown to come see the other side.

He never expected Brown to take him up on it four days later.

"I never did discuss with him about race and his fist. He can do whatever he wants to do," Dugan said. "We as a police department, we've always been supporting of people protesting peacefully. I just wanted to give him a different perspective. Not trying to change his mind, just wanted to educate him.

"Hats off to him for being open minded to come out there."

Dugan wanted to make sure his troops were open-minded, too.

So Dugan sent a department-wide email Wednesday, letting everyone know he had invited Brown, as well as members of the Bucs, to gain insight into local law enforcement. Dugan said the Bucs who played at Arizona Sunday, are open too when their schedule permits.

"I think the cops were kind of waiting for someone to go, 'What about us?" Dugan said. "We have such great community support, but when a football player takes a knee or a hockey player raises a fist, that's what gets notoriety."

Brown said he put a lot of thought and prayer into becoming the first and thus far only NHL player to do a silent protest. He spoke with members of the military, consulted with family members, including his father, former NFL running back Ted Brown. Brown made sure his wife, Lexi, approved, knowing there would be backlash.

And Brown said he received racist comments and death threats on social media. He hasn't played since, a healthy scratch the last three games heading into Monday's game in Detroit.

"In my heart, I know I did the right thing," he said.

In a Twitter post Sunday, Brown said he's had good and bad experiences with police, but overall respects what they do. And Brown's three-hour visit to the training center Friday gave him a whole new perspective.

Brown, Dumont and Vladislav Namestnikov were taken through the academy, offered a couple times a year to citizens. They went through mock traffic stops, attended to a report of domestic violence and drunk and disorderly at a bar. They participated in computer simulations which tried to teach when there should be shoot and no-shoot scenarios.

Brown, an active video gamer, said it wasn't always easy to tell what was an active threat.

"It was stressful," Brown said.

Beyond Brown's protest, he has donated $1,500 towards the removal of a Confederate statue in Tampa. He spent last year mentoring at-risk kids through the team's "Guide the Thunder" program. He raises money through Twitch.tv video game streams an NHL program to "drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities." The program is called Hockey for Everyone.

"It's a credit to J.T. He could have just raised his fist and spewed some stuff in the paper and not really acted on it," Dugan said. "He's probably going to do a ride-along with us in the streets when he can."

Said Brown. "I'd definitely go back again, and try to be more prepared."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith,