COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown’s decision to stop his anthem protest began to take shape just a few days after he raised his right fist before the Oct. 7 game against the Panthers in Sunrise.
Brown, 27, was encouraged when interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan reached out to him Oct. 9 and showed a willingness to work with him on issues of police brutality and racial inequality. Brown, one of about 30 black players in the NHL, gained a better understanding in what he called an "eye-opening" experience at the department’s citizens academy later that week.
But a meeting with Bucs legend Derrick Brooks really helped Brown figure out a game plan for how to make a difference in the community. The two met in Brooks’ Amalie Arena office last week, the Hall of Fame linebacker’s expansive philanthropic example speaking for itself.
"We’re all in this together," Brooks told the Tampa Bay Times. "Anyone who knows me knows I’m all about boots on the ground. I’m just glad that other young athletes want to be involved — not just wanting to help, but actually doing it."
Brown will continue his relationship with the Tampa police, including participating in ride-alongs. Starting with Saturday’s game against the Penguins at Amalie Arena, Brown is donating more than 600 tickets for home games to organizations such as Bigs in Blue, a program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America that pairs police officers with youths, and RICH House, a Tampa Police Department outreach program for at-risk youths.
Brown also will be involved with owner Jeff Vinik’s Winston Park Boys & Girls Club, where deputies volunteer.
Some wondered whether Brown should have just done these things without protesting. But the image of Brown’s raised fist went viral nationwide; plus, it built momentum for a partnership with police.
"If we weren’t in that situation, who knows what would have happened?" Brown said.
Brown stressed that he got a lot of support from the Lightning, from ownership on down, even if some would have preferred he not protest.
"Everybody has their own opinions on it," Brown said. "But at the same time, the issue is something we need to talk about. (The team) is here to support, help me tell the story the way I want it to be told, to be able to help me get in situations where I can positively affect change."
Brown was a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game Thursday against the Blue Jackets. The Lightning has gone with 11 forwards the past six games, going 4-0-1 in the first five.
Another Kucherov comparison
Wing Nikita Kucherov and Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin are good friends and share an agent. The Russians also share some on-ice traits. "Not only can they go north-south, they can go east-west," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "They can shoot the puck in an instant. They’ve got the one-timer, got the quick release. They see the game. Both very similar players."
• F Cedric Paquette did not play due to an undisclosed injury, the second game he has missed. It’s a shame the scrappy center can’t seem to stay healthy. He was so good to start the season.
• D Andrej Sustr was in the lineup again, with D Slater Koekkoek scratched.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.