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COVID-19 Road Trip, Part III: Revelations and Return

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Photo courtesy of Joe VanHoose

I didn’t meet an unpleasant person in Colorado. Nor did I meet anyone who wasn’t wearing a mask.

Florissant wasn’t much of a town, but everyone wore their mask at the market next to its one stoplight. The same scene occurred in Divide. Up the road, Idaho Springs had moved its entire downtown outside. At the Kum & Go at the end of the street, not only did the clerks enforce wearing masks, but they made sure to keep my friends and I from getting too close to the pizza counter.

At the end of the long weekend, I dropped off my buddies at the Denver airport and headed east. My friends are sure that everything surrounding COVID-19 is overblown. They were quick to bring up the latest CDC data about how few people are dying due to COVID alone. They weren’t happy about having to wear masks everywhere, but they did it just the same.

They believe personable responsibility should dictate our response to this global pandemic. I agree.

I believe we all have a responsibility to contribute to the communities we are in, and public health is part of that contribution. If me wearing a mask and staying away from people can make a me-sized dent in dealing with the pandemic, that’s all I can really control.

Where are the prophets?

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This is a guest essay from Jason Smith. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Vanderbilt University and, by his own admission, writes about sports, theology and philosophy on the internet sometimes. He teaches at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. Earlier this year, he explored the morality of college football returning to play during the pandemic.

When I was a sophomore at the University of Georgia I decided, like a lot of nerdy sophomores in college do, to watch all of the 1001 Movies You Have to See Before You Die. I realized pretty quickly this was a terrible idea because I did, in fact, have to attend class and read books.

I settled instead on the 100 Greatest Movies from the American Film Institute since 100 is less than 1001 and got to work filling in the gaps of my cinematic knowledge.

One of the movies that has stuck with me is On the Waterfront, the Elia Kazan Best Picture winner starring Marlon Brando. You’ll know it as the “I coulda been a contender!” movie, if you know it at all.

The only thing I knew about On the Waterfront going into it was that line. I had no idea that the plot revolved around a mob boss taking over a longshoreman’s union and black balling a washed-up prize fighter — a prize fighter whose career he himself soiled after convincing him to throw a fight.

I’m not sure I would’ve found that all that interesting but for the inclusion of a priest — Father Barry, played by Karl Malden and his legendary schnozz.

Father Barry has stuck with me because he was the first time I saw a fictional representation of a Christian minister advocating for economic justice. I was used to priests and pastors in movies symbolizing a hypocritical hyper-morality that had to be sloughed off, institutional corruption that had to be fought, or a benevolent yet myopic concern for the soul and the soul alone.

‘My people are food people’

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Photo courtesy of André Gallant

This is a guest essay from André Gallant, who is a writer, editor and photojournalist based in Athens. His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Gravy, Bitter Southerner, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Southern Cultures and Atlanta Magazine. He is the author of The High Low Tide, a work of narrative nonfiction about the Georgia oyster industry published by UGA Press in 2019.

I’d wager many of us — those of us who are being COVID-19 cautious — pine for a sit-down restaurant meal, and that longing is accompanied by harsh physical symptoms, not unlike the gut punch that DeVonta Smith delivered as he slipped behind a Georgia defender en route to an agonizing run to the endzone in 2018.

Recently, when I returned home from my first day of public, face-to-face work in months, teaching part-time at the University of Georgia, I wanted to do nothing more than shake off the stress at my most happiest of places: a booth at Tlaloc in North Athens, where I’d normally line up empty glasses of charro negro, a spiced and limed Coke and tequila cocktail, consume my weight in enchiladas de mole, and regain some sense of calm.

That therapy hasn’t felt like an option lately and I feel worse for it. It’s not the lower caloric intake or diminished buzz that hurts the most. I miss my people. 

My people are food people. 

The Future of Football: Collective bargaining

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Picture of Alabama football players on the field.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

We’ve updated this story after some additional conversations and new developments in the past day.

The demands don’t seem to be that outrageous, right?

Fair wages to compensate you for your work. Appropriate safety protocols to help navigate a global pandemic. A comfortable, trusting environment that fosters open dialogue.

It’s what most employees would want in their workplaces, and it’s what most individuals can seek through a variety of measures, such as job transitions or collective bargaining. In the world of college athletics, however, such demands are treated more often than not as controversial requests.

But both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd have spurred an important awakening among athletes at all levels of play. While professional athletes have the protection of their unions to give them the necessary leverage to demand — and enact — change, student-athletes have lacked that type of singular, unified voice to push for change.

That appears to be changing.

‘Grasses of the margins’

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Photo courtesy of asergeev.com

Let’s start with an exercise.

Hold out your thumb and observe how large it is.

It’s likely no taller than two nickels stacked on top of each other with the thickness of a couple of pencils. The variation of size might vary from person to person, but the general sentiment remains the same.

Hold up your thumb in the room you’re in. How much space does it take up now? 

Step outside to your patio or your yard, and repeat the exercise. The ratio has gotten increasingly smaller.

Keep that perspective in your mind because that thumb — that imminently crucial yet disproportionately small portion of your body — is roughly the same size as a cultivar of grass. This might not mean a lot at first, but hold that image for a bit and you start to understand how much influence these tiny tangles of blades and roots possess.

The Future of Football: Bowls, scheduling and more

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Photo by Paul Abell via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

The haze of the COVID-19 pandemic has clouded the picture for all sports, and few have been impacted more than college football. 

While the NCAA did share some health and safety protocols on Aug. 5, it’s primarily been conferences and schools taking control — as much as one can in the middle of raging pandemic — of their destinies in an attempt to save football.

Teams have shuffled their schedules around and athletic directors have offered hopeful, yet vague comments about the prospects of playing football this season. The only thing to be certain of in the middle of the pandemic is uncertainty. 

That said, the prospects of conference-only schedules and spring football are intriguing to many fans, largely because it offers the promise of live sports. These adjustments, seemingly shifting on a daily basis, breed questions, suggesting that many long-sought changes might be within reach.

The question is if the pandemic has done enough to foster significant, structural change with regards to scheduling, the bowl system and the future of the College Football Playoffs.

The answer, of course, is … maybe?

Wrestling with the Hall of Fame

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Photo courtesy of Marc Lancaster

In the years before I crossed the threshold to become a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, I always swore I wouldn’t be one of those writers who yo-yoed on candidates from year to year. 

Some voters’ apparent distinction between a “first-ballot” Hall of Famer and a run-of-the-mill Hall of Famer — like the handful who dropped previous support of other candidates to vote for Derek Jeter and no one else last year — made no sense to me. Hall voting is mostly, though not entirely, a function of statistics. And it’s not like any of these guys’ statistics change from year to year once they retire. 

Yet there I was late last month, agonizing as always over which boxes to check, reevaluating a couple of players who have been on the ballot for years and never received a vote from me. 

‘A right jolly old elf’

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Photo courtesy of @OfficialSanta

It’s Christmas Week, and we figured there’s no better topic to dive into this week at Beyond The Trestle than that of a big guy himself – Santa Claus. 

The world’s most famous gift-giver has a history that spans more than 1,700 years, with geographic roots that are as diverse as Asia Minor and Scandinavia. He’s been viewed as a cheerful, round grandfather figure who delights in the joy of children, as well as a truly weird, fairly terrifying hairy beast that demands offerings and sacrifices.

Fortunately, the story of Santa today is one of merriment and joy. So, in the spirit of the season, we’ve decided to dive into the history of Santa by asking a few key questions and sharing the origins of his story.

Let’s dive in.

Finding meaning on Palmour Street

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This is a guest essay from Matt Boedy, a professor of English at the University of North Georgia who teaches in its First Year Composition program, as well as upper-level courses in writing and publication. He is the author of Murder Creek, chronicling the story of the last man to die in Georgia’s electric chair, and Speaking of Evil, an examination of the question of why God would allow for the existence of evil through a rhetorical prism.

The old black and white film, scratchy now with age, begins with a little boy – a Black boy, maybe six or seven – running down a dirt road.

What sounds like a soft flute creates a happy soundtrack as the boy scrambles onto a front porch to meet his mother. Then the camera pans to the porch swing, where his father sits next to another child. Our running boy bounces into his father’s arms.

The voiceover narrates: “Can parents help their children grow up? Let’s see how one couple is trying.”

The viewer is introduced to a family living at 511 Palmour Street in Gainesville, Georgia, circa 1949. The three numbers are posted just above the mail box next to the front screen door as seen in the introduction or “trailer” to the film.

This family – given a fictional surname – are real people acting out a beneficial public mental health message.

A safe space

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This is a guest feature article from Donnell Suggs, who is a staff writer for the Southern Cross and a freelance writer living in Savannah. An active member of the National Association of Black Journalists, his work has been published in the Savannah Morning News, ESPN’s The Undefeated, Atlanta Magazine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Newnan Times-Herald and The Atlanta Voice.

Riverdale, Ga. – Charles R. Drew High School Assistant Principal William Silveri’s silver SUV pulled up outside of Southern Crescent Stadium on a hot afternoon in September. He’s there to meet me to talk about his position as the assistant executive director of the Minority Coaches Association of Georgia (MCAofGA), and it just so happens to be time for the Drew Titans football team to practice.

Titans junior linebacker Kalen Justice walked by wearing a HBCU camp cut-off t-shirt when Silveri pointed his way, “See that shirt,” he asked me. “Come here Kalen.” The shirt was from last year’s Historically Black College and University (HBCU) camp held at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta. Justice was one of hundreds of players invited to the camp in order to demonstrate their abilities in front of dozens of coaches.

Coaches from Florida A&M University to Fort Valley State University to North Carolina A&T University and Savannah State University were in attendance to name a few.

“We had commitments from almost every HBCU program,” said Silveri, himself a former high school coach who also worked as a guidance counselor at Riverdale High School. He knows kids and understands what motivates student-athletes at this level.

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