The return of sports can’t come soon enough

PHOTO BY JONATHAN MAILHES

The last three months have been a continuous audible for our entire world.

No doubt the coronavirus pandemic certainly changed our course of direction here at Tiger Rag Magazine.

Instead of normal issues focusing on spring football in April, women in LSU sports in May and previewing travel for the upcoming football season in June, the events of the day could not be ignored.

So, we changed plays at the line of scrimmage.

Our April issue “Suspension of Disbelief’ dealt with fallout of the cancellation of the remainder of the LSU sports season. Then, in May, thanks to my wife Paige who heard the inspirational 2015 song “Rise Up” by Andra Day, our May issue became “Rise Up!” featuring stories on LSU coaches and athletes battling through the absence of sports.

The past few weeks as the coronavirus curve has taken a positive dip and some elements of normal daily life are being restored such as restaurants opening, there are signs sports will be restarted.

It’s why we decided our June issue should be “High Five,” a celebration of the greatest athletes, coaches and moments in LSU’s illustrious sports history.

An extremely veteran 15-member media panel who have covered or been involved with LSU sports selected the top five all-time best athletes in every current sport and in defunct sports as well as the best coach in a male sport and the best coach in a female sport.

There are three other interesting categories that we’ll let you discover on your own.

Our June issue will be in the usual grocery stores and restaurants next week. And here online, we’ll release the category winners and stories daily starting Friday.

While writing this issue, two things stood out to me.

The first is the ridiculous number of world-class athletes who have worn the Purple and Gold.

There are Heisman Trophy winners, Super Bowl champions, NBA MVP’s and champions, WNBA champions, world record holders, PGA tour winners and Olympic medalists all turning in hard-to-top performances that have stood the test of time.

The Tiger Rag High Five lists will definitely stir debate, especially in the football, baseball and gymnastics categories. They are the most tradition-rich sports filled with the most stars.

Researching, interviewing, writing the stories and recalling past glories of the winners and the rest of the top vote getters made me realize how much we’ve missed live sports the last few months.

While there some LSU fans who can’t get enough replays on ESPN or the SEC Network of the Tigers’ winning the 2019 CFP national title or LSU putting up 46 points that glorious November afternoon at Alabama to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide – it’s time to move on, people – it’s not like the eager anticipation of a live event and then how it plays out.

Sports does something else that’s extremely critical, especially after the explosion of racial tensions nationwide in last 10 days following the inexplicable murder of George Floyd, a Minneapolis African American citizen by four Minneapolis policemen.

Sports bonds all races, all colors of people and genders, for the common cause of cheering for their favorite teams and athletes.

I’d be extremely naive to suggest fans from various walks of life sitting next to each other at sporting events is going to solely solve racial issues that have very real for decades and decades and decades.

But do it enough times and it can open a door to a dialogue with someone for whatever reason you never before thought about acknowledging. If you’re white, you might eventually learn and get a better understanding of the constant fear that African Americans face daily of being racially profiled and stopped by police.

University of New Orleans athletic director Tim Duncan, who I covered when I worked in Memphis and he played basketball for the University of Memphis, was one of the smartest, most thoughtful athletes I’d ever come across. His gradual ascent in college administration is no surprise to me or anyone who knows him.

In a Facebook video he posted Monday, he said he was racially profiled by police five days before George Floyd was murdered. It happened in Massachusetts where Duncan still maintains a home since he was a deputy athletic director for Northeastern University in Boston before coming to UNO.

“My wife and I were stopped in Massachusetts just one block from our home walking to the store,” Duncan said. “We were stopped by four police cars and six policemen with guns drawn because I fit a profile.

“It’s not okay just because I’m a tall black man walking one block from his house that I’m stopped because I fit the profile of a murder suspect because he was tall. I understand the police have to do their job. Trust me, they do.

“But to roll down on me with guns drawn walking on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon with my wife is uncalled for. It’s uncalled for George Floyd to have a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

“This stuff has happened way too much. I’m pissed, I’m outraged. I wanted to talk to our student-athletes before releasing a statement. I wanted them to understand my story. I wanted them to understand this just doesn’t happen to what is portrayed as `thugs’ on television. It can happen to your athletic director.”

No one has an answer if injustices like this will ever end. But sports can play a key role and here’s why.

There are short-sighted people in the world who believe athletes shouldn’t get involved in controversial issues, like a naysayer on Twitter named Donald Cook.

He tweeted “Shut up and play” in response to a tweet by NFL defensive back Richard Sherman, who vowed he would “continue to fight for the equality for the people that are treated unjust in the country.”

Former LSU Tigers’ offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield chimed in by tweeting, “Before we ever put on jerseys we were born black men. One is for 3.3 years if you’re lucky. One is for life. So nah, we can’t shut up and play.”

Well said, Garrett.

Athletes are uniquely qualified to address the race issue. Sports teams are full of athletes from all races, economic backgrounds and cultures. They accept each other to work toward the common goal of winning.

If you’ve ever played on a team like I did in high school and college, you understand your teammate is your brother or your sister. You have each other’s backs. You laugh with them. You cry with them. You revel with them in the best moments and lift each other’s spirits when things don’t go as planned.

Sports gets a bad rap for many things, but the undeniable truth is sports teaches you how to get along with everyone on your team.

Which is ultimately what we should strive for in life.

Acceptance, understanding and empathy wins the day every time.

Hopefully, the return of sports, especially the Ti-gahs, will shine a positive light on that.

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