KRAVITZ: This is a column about a protest. Oh, and a football game – a Colts’ victory over the Browns – as well

Members of the Indianapolis Colts take a knee during the nation anthem before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - First they knelt, nine Colts did, taking a dissenting knee of protest during the national anthem, and then they stood up, stood taller than they have all season, winning the kind of game they’re absolutely supposed to win – with Andrew Luck or without him. The final was Colts, 31-28, over the Browns, and the Colts did an altogether lousy job of finishing the job, turning Barry Goldwater conservative in the late going and opening the door for the Browns. But, in the end, they are the Browns, they’ve now lost 21 of their last 22 games, and they have no earthly clue how to win games like these – or games of any kind, come to think of it.

And let’s face it, the Colts are in no position to care about style points.

The “Hold On For Dear Life’’ Tour continues, and now comes the news you’ve been waiting for. According to a number of media reports, none of them confirmed by Chuck Pagano after the game, Andrew Luck may begin practicing in earnest this week and could be ready to play by Week 6 or Week 7.

“It’s too early right now to tell,’’ Pagano said. “He’s making great progress. It’s the same report. I wish I had more to give you. I don’t anticipate it, but who knows?’’

The game? The Colts did what they had to do. They got a bravura performance from Jacoby Brissett, who led four straight touchdown-scoring drives, scoring two of them himself with some deft footwork. They got a strong game – and you knew they would – from T.Y. Hilton, who has a habit of backing it up when he talks about bringing the pain to an opponent. They forced three turnovers, including two important interceptions by the eternally underappreciated Rashaan Melvin.

“It’s funny because Darius (Butler) and Vontae (Davis) have been on my case the last two weeks, `You mean, you’ve been in this league five years and you don’t have a single pick?’ ‘’ Melvin said with a smile. “Then in practice, I started getting picks, one after another. And this game, I got my first two. Now maybe they’ll get off my back. But I’m glad they got on me. It got me focused.’’

Early in the second half, it became painfully apparent the Colts were going to try and sit on the lead and maybe even hatch it, turning terribly conservative scoring just three points in the half. That’s on the players, sure, but more, it’s on the coaches. Frank Gore up the middle. Frank Gore up the middle. Incomplete pass. Punt.

“We’ve got to learn how to finish,’’ Pagano said. “We let one slip away (last week against Arizona) and we almost did the same thing. But I see this team getting better.’’

Before the game, I received word that the Colts would interlock arms during the anthem in a show of solidarity, but there was no word whether players would take a knee a la Colin Kaepernick and a growing number of other players. Once they rolled out the giant, field-length flag, we got our answer. At least nine Colts players kneeled, all of them African-American. Fans booed when they saw players from both teams take a knee, but I didn’t notice a sudden fan rush for the exits. They may not agree with these protests, but they still want their football.

It was the most unified show of protest we’ve seen yet from the Colts. Last year, Antonio Cromartie kneeled and Darius Butler held up his right fist, but that was the end of it. This week, though, the Colts, like so many teams and players throughout the league, essentially felt like they’d been dared to protest by President Donald Trump’s statements during a rally in Huntsville, Ala., Friday.

“In many ways, it radicalized us,’’ Butler said.

The important thing is, the Colts were of a single mind in this protest, even if most stood and some kneeled. That’s why they interlocked arms, as a show of solidarity. And they had the support, explicit and implicit, of Colts ownership and management. Pagano discussed it with his players, told them they should follow their conscience, wherever that might lead.

“Football is a great unifier,’’ he said. “It brings people together. It’s the greatest team sport in the world. It has been and always will be, and football is an opportunity for a bunch of people from all walks of life to come together and root and cheer their team on and commiserate together when your team isn’t doing so well. But we wanted to be unified – unity over self all the time. We wanted to be together on this thing.’’

It would be great to see a white player, or several white players, join their black brothers in protest; this is not a racial issue, but a human one, an issue of human rights and human dignity. But again, this is all about freedom of choice, and the choice they make to stand for the anthem should be respected and applauded as well. It did not go unnoticed that Margus Hunt, a white player, stood next to and behind the kneeling players, his right hand resting on Clayton Geathers’ shoulder, his left hand on Melvin’s left shoulder pad.

“It’s such a complex, sensitive subject for everybody,’’ he said, and he’s right. “What’s important is that we’re brothers and we do this together. It was important that we show unity and support for each other.’’

After the game, those who kneeled were generally outspoken and happy to fully articulate the reasons behind their protest, specifically Melvin and Butler.

“My father was in the military, my brother is in the military, so no disrespect to the flag or the military,’’ Butler said. “But once I saw the comments (Trump) made, it got guys stirred up and drew a line in the sand to where I wanted to be clear which side I’m on. I’ve got a platform, and I want to keep the conversation going. (Trump’s comments were) upsetting, disrespectful. A person in that position shouldn’t be one of the most divisive people in the country. We all just felt we needed to take a stand and keep the conversation going. There are a lot of great things about this country, a lot of great things, but some very important things need to be addressed and fixed.’’

Not all of the players were happy to talk about the protest, however. Jabaal Sheard, the outside linebacker, didn’t seem to understand that the purpose of peaceful dissent is to inspire conversation, not mute it.

“Naw, man, I’m not here to talk about that,’’ he said. “We just busted our asses to win that football game. I’ll answer questions about the game.’’

And then there was an uncomfortable silence.

Somebody finally asked what the victory meant to the Colts, but I didn’t stick around for the answer, specifically because I didn’t really care.

Note to Jabaal: You can’t take a knee during the anthem, then decline comment, which defeats the entire purpose of continuing the conversation about police brutality, racial inequality and some of the other issues that diminish us as a nation. The idea behind taking the knee is to inspire people to talk about important subjects, not to roll into a verbal fetal position and be reduced to stale football platitudes. I fully respect Sheard’s right to protest, but don’t respect his decision to wave away all the questions associated with the very public stance him and several other Colts, and Browns, took – all to a chorus of boos from the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd.

Somebody asked Melvin, one of those who protested, what he was thinking when he heard the boos as the flag was unfurled and players, 20 Browns and nine Colts, dropped to a knee.

“I just prayed for people to see what we see and understand what’s really going on in this country,’’ he said. “It’s bigger than us as people. It’s about what’s right in God’s eyes. That’s what I prayed about during the anthem. Then I played football.’’

DeShone Kizer, the former Notre Dame quarterback who now leads the Browns, got it right.

“Once again, this is a tragedy in our country that we have to sit here and still have these discussions,’’ he said. “I know for a fact that I am no `son of a bitch’ and I plan on continuing forward and doing whatever I can from my position to promote the equality that’s needed in this country.’’

It was an odd day Sunday, oddly inspiring, really. Players stood up by standing down. This is not over. It’s not close to over. There was football, and a Colts victory. But there was a whole lot more.