|J.T. Smallwood (left) and Matt Pitt (center), with an
unidentified man as Pitt receives an honorary sheriff's
badge from Jefferson County.
A number of readers have expressed doubt or surprise about our report this week that a political figure and University of Alabama football fan used the "N word" to describe college football players--including those wearing Crimson Tide jerseys. The report came in the wake of news that a threatened boycott by University of Missouri football players, over the administration's tepid response to several race-based incidents on campus, helped cause the school's president and chancellor to announce their resignation.
The point of our post was to show that the University of Missouri hardly is the only school--not even the only one in the Southeastern Conference--where racism and college athletics collide. We also asked the question: Will Alabama players show the kind of social conscience, and guts, that caused University of Missouri players to rise up against a mostly white administration that seemed willing to tolerate all sorts of ugliness targeting black students?
Specifically, we reported that Jefferson County Tax Collector J.T. Smallwood was watching an Alabama game from the private box of Trustee Paul Bryant Jr., while hosting Trussville-based youth minister Matt Pitt and several of his associates as guests. Here's how we described the ugly scene that followed:
Part of Pitt's plan has been to build a ministry that embraces diversity and reaches out to young people of all colors and ethnicities. While viewing the Alabama game from Bryant's box, Pitt was stunned and sickened to see Smallwood look out over the massive crowd and state: "Can you imagine this many people pay us to watch n-----s beat up on each other?"
Why do some folks not want to believe this happened? One reason, I suspect, is that many Crimson Tide fans have a strong emotional attachment to their team, and they want to believe that fans view the team's black players with affection and respect. Some readers indicated they know J.T. Smallwood and found it hard to believe he would utter such a vile and racist statement.
I have no doubt that the incident happened. For one, Matt Pitt related it to me directly, with plenty of details and no hesitation about recounting the words he heard--and the circumstances under which he heard them.
On top of that, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Smallwood was part of an effort to use Pitt's immensely popular The Basement ministry to endorse a slate of white, conservative political candidates--and to place The Basement's money with Bryant Bank. Pitt was strongly opposed to both requests.
|The gruesome injury that ended Tyrone Prothro's
football career at the University of Alabama.
Was Smallwood imitating an officer? Was he hinting at what was to come for Pitt if he did not cave into demands that the minister endorse certain political candidates and put his money with Bryant Bank?
As for Bryant Jr., no one should be surprised at any sign he is affiliated with backward thinking. Consider his business practices, as we described in an April 27, 2015, post titled "New study indicates Paul Bryant Jr.'s bank has adopted mortgage-loan policies tinged with racism." From the post:
Tuscaloosa-based Bryant Bank makes almost no mortgage loans to black or Latino customers, a new study shows.
In an article titled "The Color of Money Runs White At The Crimson Tide's Bank," Adam Rust of banktalk.org shows that Bryant Bank rarely makes mortgage loans to certain minority groups. . . .
How much does race matter at Bryant Bank? Rust's research indicates the answer is "a lot."
My review of their Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data suggests that they rarely extend the same opportunity to minorities who want to buy a home for their families. Between 2011 and 2013, the bank made two owner-occupant loans to African-American borrowers, two to Asian applicants, and another to a Latino applicant. They made a home purchase mortgage loan to an African-American in 2010, but they did not do so in 2008 or 2009.
Do many Alabama fans respect their black football players? I feel certain the answer is yes. But does the Crimson Tide fan base include quite a few Neanderthals, including some who have lots of money and hang out in luxury boxes? The answer definitely is yes, and no one who has spent time around athletics in the Deep South--and I've covered sports in Dixie on a full- or part-time basis for more than 30 years--should be surprised by that.
How much do some Alabama players sacrifice to help the Crimson Tide win games? Consider Tyrone Prothro, a receiver for the Tide from 2003-05. Prothro suffered a gruesome leg injury while trying to catch a pass in the end zone against the Florida Gators in 2005. Ten years later, video of the play remains gut-wrenching to watch.
Prothro had three surgeries to repair the leg, but never was able to resume his football career. He has gone on to have 10 surgeries on the leg, but the injury still bothers him.
Tyrone Prothro essentially gave up a leg for Alabama Crimson Tide football. Would he receive a mortgage loan from Paul Bryant Jr.'s bank? It doesn't sound like it. Would J.T. Smallwood use the "N word" to describe Prothro? Sure sounds like it.
|J.T. Smallwood flashes a badge as Matt Pitt and a friend
are "behind bars" at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.