Drivers traveling east from Biloxi, west from Pensacola or south from Chattanooga are greeted by bright green signs welcoming them to “Alabama the Beautiful.”
Those nice greetings have been in place for decades, often accompanied by the name of the current governor. But lately, there has been a new addition to the sign designed to let anyone not familiar with our state know the one event we are most interested in trumpeting. If you’ve seen the signs, then you know what the event is. If not, then you would have a better chance of beating Ken Jennings at “Jeopardy!” than guessing it correctly. (What is no chance?)
The sign welcomes visitors to Alabama, “Home of the 2022 World Games.”
Most people reading this are just learning that Alabama — specifically, locations around Birmingham — is hosting the World Games beginning July 7. The 11-day international event is supported by the International Olympic Committee.
According to its official website, the games “showcase a new generation of global sports.” In other words, athletes will travel from around the world to compete in more than 30 sports, most of which weren’t deemed worthy of the real Olympics. Those events include boules, which, best I can tell, involves folks congregating in a town square and seeing who can throw or roll a heavy ball closest to a small target ball.
Look, I couldn’t be happier that Alabama has attracted an international sporting event. If people are going to play boules or korfball or beach handball they might as well do it in the Heart of Dixie.
But is hosting a Swede against a German in canoe marathoning (that’s an actual World Games event) really what our state needs to be bragging about on our official welcome signs? Of course not.
There are only two recurring sports events that deserve that kind of recognition. They are the annual NASCAR races in Talladega and the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile.
Talladega welcomes more than 100,000 fans for a week of fun and paint-rubbing every time they open the gates to the track. The races have a huge economic impact.
The same is true for the Senior Bowl. Because of our annual game, “The Draft Starts in Mobile.” That slogan carries increasingly more weight every year as interest in the NFL Draft continues to grow. Sometimes I think people in Mobile take for granted that such a huge event comes to our city every year when dozens of much larger cities would kill to host such a high-profile event that attracts a national TV audience for a week and brings positive attention to the city year-round.
Now that the game is going to be at full capacity at Hancock Whitney Stadium this year, it’s going to take off even more. We should all do everything possible to support the game and make sure it’s a huge success here for decades to come.
Or, how about if our state welcome signs actually bragged about the fact that Alabama is the home of the best college football in the country? Something like, “Welcome to Alabama, the only state with two schools that have won national football championships in the last decade.”
Or we could celebrate Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Satchel Paige, John Hannah, Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan, Charles Barkley, Ozzie Newsome or Julio Jones.
This is far from a complete list. But seeing the names of any of these great athletes on our state welcome signs would make just about any Alabamian swell with pride.
But who says our welcome signs have to include any sports reference at all? Why not brag about some of the great citizens from our state? We could include Helen Keller, Harper Lee, Hank Williams, Jimmy Buffett, Jason Isbell, Mae Jemison, Tommy Shaw (but only if we included an addendum condemning the whole Mr. Roboto phase for Styx), John Lewis or hundreds of other possibilities.
Let’s all wish Birmingham great success with the World Games. Then let’s support getting the Senior Bowl on some of those welcome signs next.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart radio app.
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