November 29th, 2016

Billy Reed: Governor's Cup and Juice Bowl

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Billy Reed: Governor's Cup and Juice Bowl
Louisville and Kentucky played for the Governor's Cup while tragedy struck at the Juice Bowl / photo: Louisville athletics

Last Saturday afternoon, a crowd of 54,075 football fans gathered at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to witness what turned out to be Kentucky’s monumental 41-38 upset of Louisville in the annual Governor’s Cup game. Both teams will play in the post-season, and speculation is rampant about their bowl destination.

But the bowl that matters most, at least in the minds of those who understand that sports doesn’t exist in a bubble separated from the rest of society, is the Juice Bowl, a holiday tradition at Louisville’s Shawnee Park that began in the 1950s.

Like the better-known Dirt Bowl in basketball, the Juice Bowl has been a way for Louisville’s African-American community to use sports to celebrate life, renew friendships, and gather in a spirit of goodwill and happiness.

But at around 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, as a women’s flag football game was going on before hundreds of onlookers, all that changed forever. A barrage of gunshots, about 20 by one reckoning, turned the peaceful scene into a war zone. When the firing ceased, two were dead, elevating the city’s death toll to 112 for the year, and four were wounded.

Nobody had to report the crisis to Mayor Greg Fischer because he was there, only about 200 yards from the killing field. He was whisked away by police and later sent out a tweet asking the community for its help and support.

What caused it?

The usual suspect: Sheer stupidity.

Apparently some guy’s car bumped into somebody else’s motorcycle, and, before you could say “National Rifle Association,” people had drawn weapons and fired away.

The story made the national news, of course, and former U.S. Representative Gabby Gifford of Arizona, herself a victim of random gun violence, sent out a tweet calling upon our nation’s leaders to take action against the gun violence that holds the nation in its thrall.

“It’s a national sickness,” Mayor Fischer said.

By kickoff time in Papa John’s on Saturday, the Juice Bowl already had been relegated to the background, just another incident on the long list of random of random gun massacres that have occurred at theaters, churches, schools, clubs, and malls across these United States.

But those of us who love college sports cannot turn our heads because universities and athletics are hardly immune from the national sickness.

At almost every campus in the nation, abuse against women has become a major issue, and in some cases, such as the disgusting one at Baylor, the finger of guilt points at athletes who feel they are entitled to treat women any way they want because, well, they’re athletes.

In recent weeks, there also has been a well-documented increase in overt acts of racism and bigotry on the very campuses that are supposed to be havens for enlightenment, understanding, and self-improvement. Just last week The Lexington Herald-Leader reported an increase in racist incidents at UK.

The deaths at the Juice Bowl increased the number of gun-related murders in Louisville this year to 112, with a month still to go. Think about that. For a city this size, a city that likes to sell new businesses on locating in Louisville because of its quality of life, that’s stunning.

Now that he has been exposed in a very personal way to the horrors of gun violence, perhaps Mayor Fischer can put together a coalition of community and state leaders to attack this scourge in the name of the Juice Bowl.

Perhaps the powerful entities behind the Governor’s Cup – state and local government, UK and U of L, title sponsor Kroger -- can come together to use football as a way to reach into the inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities where the drug epidemic is what spawns more violence than anything.

The only unacceptable course of action is to do nothing. We cannot be like one of the bystanders who told The Courier-Journal that he wasn’t moved by the shootings in Shawnee Park because “that’s just the way things are.”

That comment should be our challenge. If this is how things are, then we need to start working – as Robert F. Kennedy suggested – on how things should be. Random acts of violence, whether by guns or other means, simply aren’t acceptable in Louisville or Lexington or any community in a civilized society.

This should not be construed as a partisan political issue. It is, as Mayor Fischer said, a national sickness. All of us – Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservations, red and blue – must come together to discuss action plans to attack the scourge of violence that threatens us all.

Yet because it seems impossible to get the lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and Frankfort to agree on much of anything, perhaps the reform effort will have to begin at the city level, the grassroots level.

Personally, I can’t think of a better place than Muhammad Ali’s hometown. History doesn’t tell us if Ali’s parents ever brought him to the Juice Bowl before Thanksgiving dinner. But it does tell us that he would have been so horrified by what happened last Thursday that he would have called us into action, in the name of brotherhood and love. 

 

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