Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, the Merchant of Venice featured the sorry parable of a man who took out an unwise loan from his rival: Antonio seeking funds from his nemesis, Shylock. In due course, he learns that the moneylender is absolutely merciless and unrepentant in seeking his recompense. As the debt remains unpaid, Shylock hardens further and demands the debt be paid, at all costs.
The penalty elsewise: flesh and blood.
This kindness will I show.
Go with me to a notary, seal me there
Your single bond; and, in a merry sport,
If you repay me not on such a day,
In such a place, such sum or sums as are
Express’d in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Indeed, such a pact has even entered modern parlance: exacting a pound of flesh — to nickel and dime, to extract every penny from someone you perceive as a debtor or obligor.
You can say this for Greg Byrne and his cast of lucre-obsessed outsiders: They must have aced AP Brit Lit, because if this administration has mastered any art, it is in othering the people of the State of Alabama, and exacting a pound of flesh.
And the lust for cash, the venality appears across practically every dimension: the catastrophic turnover of women in the department, who have been denied raises and promotions — some for a decade or longer; a fresh coat of paint slapped on non-ticketed sports; ever-increasing revenue with absolutely nothing to show where the capital improvements are most needed; rising prices across almost every sport — some dramatically (did you get your basketball renewals this year?); fewer and fewer amenities; fewer and fewer opportunities to engage with fans at free or low-cost events; the hard bifurcation he established for Greg’s Boys in upper admin and the rank and file who make the department run; fewer and fewer basic perquisites for staff; elimination of actual tickets; selling your data and face under the notion of “convenience,” in reality, a dystopian starter kit — and don’t even get me started on the Dollar General gift basket sent around on the 50th Anniversary of Title IX. (What? Did you really think we wouldn't hear about this?)
And all of this is coming as Alabama continues to bring in record revenues, and remains entrenched as one of the richest programs in the country.
I could literally type these out for hours.
So, perhaps I should not have been as disappointed as I was when the University announced that it was bringing back the ridiculously popular Running of the Gumps. I was at first excited, and then I thought, “this is Greg: What’s the catch?”
For new fans, or those who forgot, RotG was a venerated tradition where ordinary people from all over the South (and predominately Alabama), would queue up for hours, then make a mad dash across Bryant Denny Stadium to get in autograph lines for the coaches and players.
It is perhaps the most delightfully-tacky, wholesome thing you’ve ever seen. Some 60-year-old from Andalusia reenacting the Bear’s iconic goal post lean; a mama from Rogersville racing down across the hash marks with baby in tow for an autograph of Star QB; kids in their crimson Nike jerseys outpacing everyone just to get the first chance to meet Coach Saban.
Then, Alabama killed it. Why? No one knows. Perhaps it is the allergy to fun that afflicts so many in this administration. Perhaps it is the fact that the Great Unwashed weren’t actually bringing in any money. It was just for “appreciation” so f’em. Who cares that for many this would be the only chance they get to see that field, or hell to even enter the stadium.
So, I was thrilled when learned it was coming back. The people of this state, the ones who built this program, the ones who sustained it in good times and lean, the Lifelong Bammers rich in passion but light on cash deserve it. It’s just the right thing to do.
Or, rather, would have been the right thing to do had the administration not decided to try and exact a pound of flesh. See, to run with your fellow Gumps this year, you’re not going to have drive down from Hatton or Moulton. Nope. You’re gonna’ have to give Greg money. Cold. Hard. Cash.
And, we’re not talking a little bit either.
See, to run with the Gumps this year, you have to get your arm twisted and subscribe to a Yea! Alabama, the Tide’s NIL collective. Great in theory, sure. But that runs you “as little as $18 a month!”. For those bad at math, that is $216 for the year’s subscription — about one dollar for every foot that you will traverse on the field.
Ignore that Fan Day is, and has always been, one of the most critical draws for local folks and those without means — that is a year-long vacation that poor Tide fans literally plan around — if you’re not willing to fork over $216, you’re simply not getting the opportunity to engage in what had always been a free, fun activity. Family of four? You’re nearing in on $900. A grandad wanting to take the Young ‘Un to The Stadium and meet a few players? Over $400.
This is disgusting. It’s despicable. It’s yet one more giant extended middle finger to cash-strapped people of a poor state who absolutely worship this program. The ones who are buying your $20 licensed tees at Walmart? This is them. The ones who were here decades before you were? The ones who will still be buying those shirts for decades to come, long after every last person in this administration has moved on? Yup. Same ones.
Whatever family Alabama had, has been long destroyed by this mercenary auslander determined to suck every penny out of every one, for every thing. You are no longer an Alabama fan. You are no longer an alum. You are no longer a person valuable to the identity of this university and what made Alabama athletics special for 125 years.
No, you are a walking wallet with a siphon straight to Accounts Receivable. And if you don’t have the cash, then you’re a non-entity. Worse, you’re less than...and this administration will quickly remind you of your place.
I used to bitch about Alabama’s Good Ole’ Boy network — Bear’s Boys who ruled the roost. I thought the department was too insular, too parochial, too focused on having those ties. Well, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Those ties are what made it special. The Department was a familial, collegial place instead of a dichotomy of The Elect and the Clock-Punching Drones.
Coach Moore wouldn’t have done this to his people.
The Department would not be so extractive and corporate if Coach Battle was still running the ship.
They understood. They got it. And this administration simply does not: it’s one more step on the way to their personal enrichment and career advancement, damn the torpedoes and lasting damage to morale, to fan trust, to what was the University of Alabama.
And that is exactly what we are discussing too: The taxpayer-funded, flagship state university of the people of Alabama. That is every bit their stadium as it is yours. This department is not your personal fief, and fans are still valuable even if they’re not putting their hard-earned money into your next bonus check.
It’s high time to decide if you truly get it or not.
Because this is not Alabama, Inc.