Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls in a race fueled, violent Birmingham, Alabama.
Saturday the Crimson Tide won a hard fought, high-scoring, revenge laden battle in College Station against a top ranked team with a Heisman trophy winner at the helm.
One of these brings bragging rights, great pride and national praise.
One of these brings shame, sadness and national embarrassment.
It’s the curse of being from Alabama. Such pride and such shame all wrapped together in an accent that only peeks through when I talk too fast, or need to refer to “y’all.”
It doesn’t matter that my grandfather moved his family to Birmingham from upstate New York just weeks after that bomb went off. That I didn’t know what the “N” word was until I heard it said by a kid in the neighborhood...and then was threatened with a backhand if I ever dreamed of uttering it myself. It doesn’t even matter that when my grandfather went to a black employee’s funeral - who just also happened to be a civil rights activist - he received his fair share of threats.
None of that matters when it comes time to tell people where I’m from. For when I say the state’s name, the word “ALABAMA!” is almost always shouted back at me in their best mocking redneck tone.
Shields automatically go up for what they’ll say next...because I catch that unspoken shadow behind their eyes. It’s the shadow of an Alabama stereotype filled with the idea that I’m poorly educated, close-minded, and worst of all: racist.
Since a certain coach’s arrival at my alma mater their next words have become so much sweeter.
“I suppose you love that Nick Saban too,” they’ll say.
To which I have only one response, “Roll Tide.”
I’m from a state marred by an ugly history that will forever follow it in the minds of those born above the Mason-Dixon line and far west of the Mississippi. To be from the south, is to be looked down upon. Yet when I again see the faces of those four girls, a part of me can’t help but wonder if today’s treatment isn’t still deserved.
And then I think about The Bear and how he took up the profound theme, "We don't have any black football players. We don't have any white football players. We have football players."
And how he won. A lot. And never stood in any locker room door. And that’s also a part of Alabama history.
So even as I take the taunts of being too dumb, too fat, not having enough teeth, marrying a cousin, and yes, being racist...football is a balm to it all.
May we honor those girls with our lives filled with humility, kindness, and equality for all.
May we crush the rest of the country’s hopes for a title with a simple, “Roll Tide.”