VOL. 10 | NO. 4 | Saturday, January 21, 2017
EditorialThe Memphis News Editorial
Editorial: Sports Remains Part Of Memphis’ Pulse
When we talk about the culture of Memphis, you probably think music first, then maybe food. Perhaps church.
But is that really the sum total of the city’s pulse, or are the big three the expression of a cultural mix that is more diverse and more complex?
We would argue Memphis culture runs deep and is fed by many springs and tributaries, not all with the undertow of music.
From Doc Hottum’s river races of the 1920s to the NBA-sized scale of the Grizzlies today, sports is a part of the city’s tradition and heritage.
It’s John Gunn and Larry Finch, Tim McCarver and Bill Terry, Rochelle Stevens and John Bramlett, along with hundreds of nameless Golden Gloves boxers from places like Goat Hill and housing projects no longer standing.
It’s Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Jack Dempsey, and Csonka, Kiik and Warfield all passing through.
It’s halftime shows with swaying marching bands that hold your attention and keep you on your feet and in the stands. Impromptu parking lot band playoffs after the game.
No-name legends on concrete basketball courts with metal nets. Leftfield ball with flattened oil cans and manhole covers for bases. Church leagues and company teams with brackets that make March Madness and fantasy leagues look like child’s play. Don’t forget the after-work bowling leagues, weekend rugby and lacrosse.
And our list of special events and tournaments is enough for several cities – not to mention all the auxiliary events connected to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Southern Heritage Classis, FedEx St. Jude Classic and The Memphis Open, making each a season unto itself.
The Grizzlies’ arrival nearly 16 years ago was just as improbable as other moments in our sports timeline. Our 30-year pursuit of an NFL team showed us just about everything pro sports has to offer in the way of arrogance, deception, greed and how to care less about our uniqueness, much less our identity.
So when the Grizz’s out-of-town owner moved the team to Memphis in 2001, many of us expected more of the same – starting with a $250 million arena to replace a $65 million one that was just 15 years old. And we were just about done paying off the expansion of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to 65,000 seats in anticipation of an NFL team that never came.
From that rough start, the Grizz front office worked to meet us where we are, and they continue to do so. The team even wears Tams uniforms once a year – arguably the worst uniform concept ever attempted in professional sports.
Sometimes we forget that it’s a game within specific boundaries and rules. It cannot substitute for the efforts we all must make toward challenges that don’t abide by those boundaries and rules.
At its best, Memphis’ sports scene embraces pro athletes and amateurs, teams and individuals, all supported by a diverse fan base that sets aside its differences – at least temporarily – to cheer under one banner. That in and of itself is proof that victories are possible against long odds.