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PPD chaplain shares another side of police-player interactions

Matthew McNelly is the pastor at the Pullman Presbyterian Church. He is also the chaplain for the Pullman Police Department. In that role he has had many chances to observe interactions between local police and WSU football players and coaches. Matthew wrote me to share a recent post he made on social media that gives insight into his unique perspective on those relationships, and was good enough to allow me to publish his words.

A few thoughts on this week in Pullman:
I have the joy and privilege to serve the community of Pullman in a couple "official" capacities. One is as the chaplain of the Pullman Police Department. The other is as the pastor of Pullman Presbyterian Church.
This week I have mourned the efforts of media, particularly regional and national, to create a storyline that Pullman is a deeply troubled community with a massive divide between the Pullman PD and WSU Athletics, and in particular Cougar football.
Conflict creates clicks, viewership, listenership, and generates advertising dollars. Sometimes (often?) the reality of a situation is distorted to further a narrative that media outlets can sell easier than the often more nuanced, less sensational reality.
What folks from outside Pullman do not realize or appreciate is that many of our police officers vilified on chat rooms and message boards for appearing to "target" members of the WSU football team are in fact neighbors and friends of coaches of that same football team. Their children go to school together, play on sports teams together, have neighborhood meals together, and in many cases the families worship together on Sunday mornings.
A number of our officers (including our chief) served as mentors to players on the football team (I say served because the mentor program was discontinued over the summer, apparently due to budget shortfalls in athletics). In all my years of attending patrol briefings, receiving hundreds and hundreds of departmental communications, and spending countless hours on the "Hill", I never once witnessed any type of targeting or deliberate searching for athletes, students of minority groups, or any other subset of the student population.
As much as I serve and support the PPD, I am also deeply invested in the support of players, coaches, and their families of the WSU football team. I have witnessed nothing but graciousness, integrity, thoughtfulness, generosity, transparency, and care from coaches. The students athletes of the football team I have come in contact with over the years are young men of humility, servanthood, and generosity. Last year I had to remove the pulpit in our church for a concert. Our pulpit weighs about 300 lbs of solid oak and is incredibly awkward and difficult to move. I sent out a text message to some Cougar O-lineman asking for help, and those guys responded quickly. Within 24 hours, 3 of them showed up and were able to move the pulpit (even they were surprised at how heavy the pulpit was!).
As I sat in the press conference today at city hall hearing from chief Jenkins and Bill Moos, I found myself wishing I could share to the world the side of the story that won't be reported. The part about how everyone involved in this story is human and in need of some grace from all of us.

 Thanks again to Matt sharing his story with us.

Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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