|Here's the transcript from Show 59 of Outside The Lines - Death, Taxes, Football
Announcer - May 13, 2001.
In Alabama, there are but two seasons - football, and spring football. But in one city, that comfortable sense of order is endangered.
Unidentified Female - We had everything, and now we get to where I have a child, and it's just like everything's been lost. I don't know what happened.
Announcer - The choice is stark - higher taxes, or no extracurricular activities.
Unidentified Female - This is their life, this is what they come to school for. It's not fair to shut kids out.
Announcer - Usually as inevitable as death and taxes, the future of high school football is in doubt.
Unidentified Female - It's a way of life in south Alabama that Friday night football is a way of life.
Unidentified Male - I understand how important football is in Alabama, but we are still about educating children first.
Announcer - Today on Outside The Lines - priorities to be settled at the ballot box.
Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.
Joining us from ESPN studios - Bob Ley.
Bob Ley, host - It may not have been invented there, but nowhere has football become more a part of the culture, the thread running through everyday life, than in Alabama.
Former Crimson Tide Head Coach Ray Perkins said it sparingly but accurately several years ago - "Alabama is football; football is Alabama." So the mere suggestion that a major county in the state would eliminate high school football overshadows the more serious issue that, indeed, all extracurricular activities are endangered, as well as the quality of public education.
Still, no high school football in Alabama?
Boston public high schools are facing the likely end of junior varsity football, and it would be a short leap from there to the end of the sport. Twenty-five years ago Rockford, Illinois eliminated all high school sports for one year. Families moved out of town, some coaches sought psychological counseling.
All of these cutbacks stemmed from money. In Mobile, the superintendent says priorities dictate that, unless a tax increase is approved by voters on Tuesday, major cuts are coming, including the sport that has given the South its identity.
Unidentified Male - Football in the South is (unintelligible). High school football is the acorns of the oak trees of the NFL. Jamarcus is as good as I've ever seen it at the high school level at his tender age. The world's his oyster. He could one day be playing on Sunday.
Unidentified Female - He's been nominated for the Elite 11; that's the 11 top quarterbacks in the nation. So you know that's something big, you know; and then all of a sudden, here it is -- within two years he might not get to play ball. That really, really sucks.
Ley - Jamarcus Russell isn't injured; he's not in academic trouble. But he lives in Mobile, Alabama where, in the spring of his sophomore year, his career may be going off the tracks.
Unidentified Male - Like, now they're trying to take -- like, just taking a dream away from us because, like, back in their days nobody ever took sports away from them.
Dr. Harold Dodge - And I don't apologize.
Ley - Back in his day, Harold Dodge coached football. Now, as superintendent of Mobile schools, he is promising to eliminate it.
Fred Kelly - Doctor Dodge, you might try to do away with it, but I guarantee you there will be football.
Dodge - If you can guarantee that football will be here, personally, that will be fine. I respect that. I would prefer that the check for $1.3 million be made out Mobile County Public Schools.
Ley - A school system in financial trouble, where many issues are on the table, but one word has captured much of the attention.
Dodge - Well, I used the "F" word in Alabama, which is "football."
Kelly - I think that we've stopped reading, writing and arithmetic for the new way with sports in this state.
Ley - Fred Kelly is leading the opposition to the tax increase.
Kelly - They're all just barking up the wrong tree, and I don't think he'll do it.
Dodge - I understand how important football is in Alabama, but we're still about educating children first. And God forbid, we're not going to put football up next to elementary teachers.
Kelly - My answer to him is, "Do it, and let's see the consequences from it."
Ley - They'll find out Tuesday, when Mobile County votes on a referendum whether to raise property taxes and, in some cases, gasoline or sales taxes, to close a budget gap and save not just football, but all extracurricular activities, without which, proponents say, kids would be in trouble.
Unidentified Female - The crime rate's going to go up; the drug rate's going to go up; more car accidents -- people drinking and driving. You're bored, you have nothing to do, and people will resort to that, unfortunately. But that's the truth, and it will be pretty sad.
Unidentified Female - If this tax does not pass, you know, who's to say that somebody's child won't be robbing the liquor store? Somebody's child won't be in a gang, or somebody's child won't be laid out in the street dead? Who's to say that? We don't know that.
Ley - They are certain, they say, that should the referendum lose, come this fall...
Unidentified Male - We'll have no fans, no players to play with, nobody to throw to, hand the ball off to.
Ley - It is a scenario the superintendent dreads.
Dodge - What I am doing on the 10 o'clock news is looking at all those households with 66,000 children and saying, it will never be the same again. I am petrified of that moment.
Kelly - I'm calling his bluff. Believe me, I'm calling his bluff.
Dodge - You know, I hear that; it is not a poker game. This is not stud poker being played in the kitchen, you know, among several neighbors with chips and pennies and a couple beers.
Ley - But the "no" campaign is largely a homegrown effort.
Unidentified Male - Brought you a little something.
Kelly - Well, I appreciate it. Every little bit counts.
Kelly - This morning, since you've been here there's $100. Since you've been here this morning, there were people who came up and got two or three signs and leaving them -- things like a $50 check, $20 bills.
How'd you find out the "no" signs were here?
Unidentified Female - We saw them...
Unidentified Male - Seen them.
Kelly - You saw them?
Unidentified Male - If it weren't for you all, we'd have been taxed to death years ago.
Kelly - This is a shade tree operation, let's put it that way. You saw it out there under the shade tree.
Ley - The school district, by comparison, has imported coaching stars for its cause.
Bob Knight spoke in favor of the tax hike, and Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville taped a commercial.
Tommy Tuberville - I'm Tommy Tuberville, head football coach at Auburn University, urging you to go to the polls and vote yes on May 15.
Ley - Days from that vote Jamarcus Russell and his teammates go through the motions at spring practice, distracted by their uncertain future.
Unidentified Male - This is definitely a scary moment for the players here in Mobile. I love the game of football, and if football's not here at Mobile, then, you know, we'll have to look somewhere else.
Ley - But in Mobile, the superintendent is adamant what a victory for the "no" votes will bring.
Dodge - No football.
Kelly - There will be sports in the schools. This is strictly a scare tactic.
Dodge - I would like to be put in the ultimate moral dilemma and have that individual, or individuals, walk in and lay a cashier's check for $1.36 million on my desk and say, now we put up, you shut up. I'd love to have that day happen.
Ley - What does high school football mean in the state of Alabama?
Joining us is the head coach of Auburn University, Tommy Tuberville. In his first two seasons with that school, he has taken the Tigers from a five-and-six record initially, then to a bowl appearance. More importantly, he coaches one-half of the most heated football rivalry on this planet; the one, of course, that Auburn has with that school over in Tuscaloosa. And he joins us from Lake Martin, Alabama.
As we did not in our story, coach Tuberville has taken a public position in favor of the referendum, but he's here this morning to talk about high school football.
And Tommy, tell this Yankee here exactly what football in the South, specifically in the state of Alabama -- high school football means.
Tuberville - Well, it's religion; high school football, college football in this state is just -- it's something people hang their hat on. It's kind of like NASCAR, you take sides and you pick a car, you pick a team, whether it's high school, college, whatever and you believe in it and you worship it, and it's done an outstanding thing for the kids over the years here in this state. It's given the opportunity to play college football or given them chances to go to school other places.
But it's just a religion here in this state.
Ley - I heard a lot of emotion in our report, but I had somebody who has coached in the NFL, coached in the major college ranks tell me he knows your state very well. He told me flat out, they would eliminate English and algebra before they would eliminate football; and he's dead serious.
Do you think the emotions run that deep?
Tuberville - Well, I think they probably do. I don't think that would be right, of course. But education all across the country is on the short end of the stick on being funded. It's just -- it's unfortunate. You know, young people are our No. 1 natural resource, and if we don't do something, not just on the short term, but on the long term of giving these kids opportunities to get an education, play in the band, sing in the choir, play football, basketball, whatever, we're not doing them justice.
So we all had the opportunities when we grew up, so let's continue to give these kids the opportunity to grow and do things that we had an opportunity to do.
Ley - Sounds like a campaign speech.
Let's talk X's and O's, though, about Auburn. You get about 10 percent of your roster from the greater Mobile area?
Tuberville - Well, 10 to 15 percent. it's an amazing area for football talent...
Ley - So what happens to you if this goes down to defeat and high school football goes by the wayside?
Tuberville - Well, of course we'd have to get players from other places. But, again, it's such a great place for athletics. It's a town that's very -- they have a lot of pride in their high school systems, they have a lot of pride in their teams. I've been to a lot of high school games there, and it would be disastrous for them to even think about doing what they're thinking about doing if they don't get this referendum passed.
Ley - You've noted recently that, in college football, for a player -- a scholar athlete, it's a 365-day-a-year job. Even at the high school level in a state like Alabama, doesn't it take a 365-day dedication for a youngster to really want to make it through the high school ranks to a school like yours?
Tuberville - Well, a lot of these kids have dreams, and really the only way some of them have an opportunity to go to a four-year school and get an education is through the athletic path. And, again, this is what we're looking at - We're looking at young people in the city of Mobile not having that opportunity to continue their education and athletic endeavors if this doesn't go -- pass on this Tuesday.
Ley - It's got to be easy for you to come out and support high school football, but how tough a decision was it for you to put yourself in a political context in the middle of a campaign like this, endorsing the proposal?
Tuberville - Well, it's really not too tough for me. I've got a 5- and a 7-year-old. And, again, I would not be sitting here today had it not been for high school and college athletics. A lot of us can't do businesswork, a lot of us can't do those things to try to be successful.
So my best avenue of being successful was through the coaching ranks, and I had to do that by playing high school football, college football; and now I'm the head coach at Auburn University. So it's very important to me that we continue to give these young people an opportunity to do things off the streets, and to try to be successful in the classroom and on the playing fields.
Ley - All right, Tommy Tuberville, thank you very much for letting us into your home, especially on Mother's Day. Thank your wife for us on that score.
And ahead we will have the two sides of this issue, on whether high school football is, indeed, expendable, or a pawn in a political battle.
Ley - The issue is education in Mobile, but inevitably conversation returns to sports, for an area unusually rich in its athletic heritage.
Unidentified Male - You've got Satchel Paige, you got Willie McCovey, you got Billy Williams, you got Hank Aaron, Kenny Stabler from right across the way in Baldwin County; you got Cleon Jones, you got Tommy Agee -- now how long do you want me to talk? We got them.
I'll tell you what I'll do - We'll take an all-time Mobile sports team; you pick the sport and I'll play you, wherever you come from.
Ley - And just as the number 56 is magical in sports, with Joe DiMaggio's streak, it's also at the center of this debate. It has been 56 years since Mobile voters have approved a tax increase for their local schools.
Unidentified Male - It's been four-and-a-half generations of (unintelligible).
Ley - There are fears this streak may continue.
Unidentified Male - We need your vote.
Unidentified Male - We're talking about it this morning - the big tax referendum.
Unidentified Male - And until we get rid of this good old boy mentality, there's going to be 56 more years.
Unidentified Male - Absolutely.
Ley - With football so much the public face of this issue in an area rich in sports history, it is history of another sort - a 1980s board of education financial scandal, that is stoking opposition to the tax.
Unidentified Male - There's some people that did wind up going to prison over this thing, and it put a bad taste in the people's mouth. And until they get some accountability, then it's not going to go away.
Unidentified Male - Are we wasting money? I don't believe so. I do believe, and I believe this from my heart, that we are being seriously punished from something that happened 20 and 25 years ago.
Ley - But in the here-and-now, days from the vote, a new crisis has erupted.
Unidentified Female - I feel, as a citizen of Mobile, that it's time for me to come forward as a mother.
Ley - Lisa Hatchett charges that, despite a policy prohibiting it, teachers have offered students rewards for encouraging "yes" votes.
Unidentified Female - I wan the misuse -- the gross misuse of our children in our schools -- bribery, extra -- free homework passes, extra points on a grade. I have all that documented. I want the fear tactics to stop.
Unidentified Male - Has someone, of 8,600 employees got exuberant? I will predict yes. People get excited. If a fan in an SEC football game goes crazy and does something stupid, does that mean that every SEC fan is a flaming liberal, you know, over-exuberant, trash person? The answer is no.
Ley - And when we continue on Outside The Lines, I'll be speaking with Mobile superintendent Doctor Harold Dodge and an opponent who says football will not be eliminated from the local schools.
Ley - Now the two sides of this issue, which does involve so much more than high school football but, again, football has become, at least nationally, its most public face.
Doctor Harold Dodge is the Superintendent of Public Schools in Mobile County; and Robert Gardner, he's the host of a talk show on WMOB radio. Both gentlemen join us this morning from Mobile.
We've heard from Doctor Dodge so, Mr. Gardner, why do you think, or do you think, that this might be a bluff by the Board of Education and Doctor Dodge?
Robert Gardner - I don't really think that he considers it a bluff, but I still think that he's wrong and I'm still just about as certain as can be that we are, indeed, going to have football and the extracurriculars.
I want to say, "Hi, mom," by the way. Never get a chance to do that again...
Ley - Why are you sure that there's going to be football? What makes you so certain?
Gardner - Well, several things. This isn't all simply in the school board's hands. We have other government bodies here, like the county commission and our Mobile city commission; we've got the state legislature, and all these folk are working toward a solution as well.
We don't need to hit the panic button. A lot of folks have been panicked and stampeded into fear over this, and it's just not going to transpire that way.
Ley - Doctor Dodge then, essentially, have you overplayed your hand?
Dodge - Absolutely not. You know, three years ago when I first came we cut $1.2 million. We then cut $8 million. This year, we attempted to cut another $6 million. This has been coming for years and we're down, now, to our last options. The issue is not just football and band. The issue is clearly teachers; there are 130-plus teachers' jobs involved here. There are 23 assistant principals and nurses and 288 support people.
Ley - But you got a lot of folks' attention when you did, as you say, use the "F" word, "football," in Alabama. And you had to consciously know that would be the big attention getter.
Dodge - No. Well, it became the big attention getter ... I thought the big attention getter would be losing the 130 teachers and 288 support people and nurses. I did become the attention getter. I did not consciously see that coming right off the bat.
Ley - You've heard about Rockford, Illinois; the "Mobile Register" did a fine piece yesterday on a town in Illinois I referenced earlier, that dropped sports for one year 25 years ago. In that case, families moved out of town, coaches sought psychological counseling. The effects, they say, are still being felt.
And Doctor Dodge, do you fear something like that happening?
Dodge - I fear something like that happening. What I fear even, most, is this time we have a grassroots support of all types of community agencies -- the churches are tremendously behind this.
The business community fears that because they fear that no one will relocate to an area where it's lately been devastated by the loss of so many paper mill jobs.
Ley - Mr. Gardner, the polls say that this thing is going to pass, perhaps even comfortably, but then again the polls said that the tax increase would pass and it got pummelled. Why not believe the polls? What do the polls say? What do you make of the polls from your show?
Gardner - Well, when we look at the polls very closely, we saw an 8-point drop over a period of four days. The momentum is once again on our side in this. I want folks to know that we don't need to fear, we don't need to panic; we can take our hands off the panic button. We're going to take care of this.
As a matter of fact, there is a bill in the legislature right now that's going to cut the power to the panic button. Doctor Dodge isn't going to be able to cut those extracurriculars.
Dodge - Bob, that's unfair. Mr. Gardner knows, clearly, that that piece of legislation has worked its way through the Alabama legislature for a period of five or six straight years and has been defeated resoundingly in the Senate every single time...
Gardner - I'm talking about SB5680...
Dodge - I know exactly what you're talking about.
Ley - Well, I tell you, rather not get into the arcane of what's going down in Montgomery, Mr. Gardner.
Let me ask you this question - in our report we saw people coming up to the opposition, buying "no" signs, dropping off, in some cases, checks for as much as $50 which, for some people, would represent the better part of what they would pay under the tax. I mean, how logical is that?
Gardner - Well, hopefully that's a one-time thing, whereas if you have this tax going on -- you have to think about more than, is it just coming out of my pocket. Sure, people -- some people can afford a little bit of this; but we've lost 2,000 of the best manufacturing jobs that most working families could hope to have in this area. You have to figure that's about $1 billion out of our economy over the next four years.
Raising taxes right now is going to cause more harm than help. We can't do it.
Ley - And Doctor Dodge, 20 percent of the county is at or below the poverty level, the economy is sluggish. Is this really an uphill fight?
Dodge - I believe it's an uphill fight, but I believe it's the right fight. We have people working for us that are in the business of recruiting new businesses to Mobile. Right now there is no activity; outside companies looking to relocate to such a fine area as Mobile look for the quality of life. They look for recreation and they look for public schools and private schools, who are behind this also, where they can relocate and have their kids get a sound education.
If the system is going down or about to implode, like we are, companies are not going to relocate -- and Mr. Gardner's figures are accurate -- we will not be able to replace those individuals. This is an investment for not only the kids' future, but this is an investment for the future of the entire community, which will, in the long run, keep taxes down.
Ley - Well obviously, as we've said throughout the show, it involves more than football.
But there's a superintendent in Wilcox County -- a rural county in Alabama -- all Alabama's dealing with this funding issue. Wilcox County has cut some mentoring programs, some academic programs, but the superintendent there said, "If I tried to cut football and basketball, I'd be run out of town."
Is that a parade behind you, or a mob that's joining behind you?
Dodge - I certainly hope it's a parade.
Again, I want to make sure that we know what the issue is. The issue is the general education of our children from those classrooms, and extracurricular activities, in fact, are extracurricular. I realize it's an emotional issue in Alabama.
But, again, when I go in those classrooms and look at those kindergarten teachers and those fifth grade teachers and those high school teachers and know that our class sizes will expand, that's the issue.
Ley - OK; and the question, of course, is so much more than football, but football is the national face.
Gentlemen, thank you very much. Thanks to Doctor Harold Dodge and to Robert Gardner in Mobile.
Next up, it's Sammy Sosa on the threshold of history - details of a live conversation with the Cubs slugger.
Ley - The interactive Outside The Lines at ESPN.com is the way to learn more about today's topic and also check out any of our programs. The keyword - OTLWEEKLY; type it in for access to our library of streaming video and transcripts of all Sunday morning programs, as well as your e-mail, which we excerpt on many shows. Our e-mail address - OTLWEEKLY@ESPN.com.
Announcer - Outside The Lines is a presentation of ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports. For more, log on to ESPN.com.
Ley - Sitting on .398, his club in first place - Sammy Sosa, "Baseball Today" with a live conversation over on ESPN2 at noon Eastern, 9:00 a.m. Pacific; your wake-up call for the national pastime with Karl Ravech, Harold Reynolds and Buck Showalter.
And if you joined us along the way, this program will re-air over on ESPN2 at 10:00 Pacific, 1:00 p.m. Eastern. Our game tonight, after baseball tonight - the Astros and the Reds at 8:00 Eastern.
I'm Bob Ley; happy Mother's Day. We will see you next Sunday. Now, the pictures of a very inelegant no-hitter on "SportsCenter."
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BROADCAST OF SUNDAY, MAY 13, 2001
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Guests: Tommy Tuberville, head football coach, Auburn University; Dr. Harold Dodge, Mobile Country Public School superintendent; Robert Gardner,
talk show host, WMOB Radio.