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Rearranging My Thoughts About Tuscaloosa And Birmingham

Wherein I feel terribly and hope that my work can still serve as the start of a worthwhile discussion.

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Around midnight on May 6th, I was an excited, anxious, nervous wreck. I slept well eventually, but it took me a while.

I had spent hours upon hours working to search for information, comb through pages and pages of documents, pull pieces together and compose a long and well-written article showing the perspective of the fans of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers football program amidst the loss of that program.

I had it suggested to me while I was in Birmingham for the spring alumni flag football game that perhaps there was a larger plan in place, and that it would be great if that story could go out there. So I struck off down the path I was pointed towards, and what resulted was the article that was published to the site yesterday morning. I was sure of myself, amidst the backing of those who pointed in that direction, that I was ready to tackle all subsequent fallout.

Around midnight on May 7th, I again struggled to sleep, but it was not due to nervous excitement, but rather shame at my own failure.

It was only after I had no energy left to expend and no tears left in my head that I finally sat down to write this and then went to sleep. I let my eagerness to be a champion for a relatively voiceless crowd and my own personal outrage at the situation get the best of me. I had missed my intended mark, and in doing so had made myself seem foolish and wasted my hard work in dogged, blind pursuit of a well-timed article.

So you're taking back everything you said?

Well, no, not at all.

I was initially very proud of my work, because everyone who had proofed it for me had provided minor edits here and there, but otherwise loved the piece. After the article went live, I even got a few compliments from the pleasantly level-headed Erik Evans from Roll Bama Roll. But in the discussion that followed Erik's editorial, something in particular knocked me on my ass.

What I find infuriating is that you provide an alternate explanation that's rooted in fact and doesn't requires wild assumptions ("UA is trying to meet its goal of expanded undergraduate enrollment in part through out-of-state and international students") but hand-wave it away in favor of #FreeUAB tinfoil hattery with one of the most insulting and condescending statements I've ever read in a piece of purportedly legitimate journalism:

What you see there is a school that has drifted further and further out of state in order to boost its enrollment numbers. Since 2007, overall undergraduate enrollment has increased 71 percent, while in the same period of time, in-state enrollment for undergraduates has actually gone down 4 percent. This leads UA to where it is today, a place where a full 60 percent of its most recent freshman class was from out of state, and 51 percent of its entire student body is not from Alabama.

Of course, you can only continue that kind of growth for so long before folks start sending leery eyes your way for being a supposed "flagship" university of the state while having a student body that has so many "foreigners."

Essentially, your theory boils down to "there has to be a conspiracy to kill UAB because Alabama is too insular (cough, cough, racist, cough) to accept a diverse student body". No evidence is presented in favor of this, it is simply assumed; a premise that would be considered cheap and easy for a stand-up comic is treated as firm ground from which to build your thesis.

If you're wondering why folks like me are responding with vitriol, this is why.

Oh no! A comment! So what?

This absolutely struck a chord for me, and a major one.

See, it was less than a week ago that my wife had a look of concern on her face that led to a serious discussion. She pointed out that, in the year that we've been living in Alabama, I've regularly thrown Alabama under the bus by complaining about everything from the weather to the "red state" nature of the place to... you name it, I at the very least made tasteless jokes about it, if not worse.

She informed me that while she was not born in Alabama, she did grow up here, and so she considered all of this as me attacking her state, and by extension her, in front of our friends. Obviously, since I'm not a heartless moron, this hit home for me.

When I really thought about it, I was allowing a very small handful of negative experiences serve as confirmation of a bias that I already had (which was based on pretty much nothing). I was turning what should have been "man, what a negative experience" into "of course negative experience, BECAUSE BAMA" based on absolutely nothing other than the fact that those negative experiences occurred in the state of Alabama.

As though the realization that I was crapping all over my wife and her home state with regularity wasn't bad enough, that comment brought forth another painful realization. My tainted, anti-bama mentality was so bad that it had crept into my article and I didn't even notice it until that commenter pointed it out.

I was, in a word, crushed. And I do mean sobbing on the floor crushed.

I had spent so much time and effort in pulling this article together, trying to do my best to represent the #FreeUAB cause and being a voice for the underdog, and I couldn't get my own "holier-than-thou" foot out of my mouth long enough to just make a point and get out of its way.

In my haste to have the article go live the same day as the highly-anticipated task force meeting, I let myself focus on how tired I was of re-reading my own work instead of focusing on the importance of the article and the subsequent need for as many edits as humanly possible.

For that, I am now humbly apologetic to everyone who has read it. I have done this topic and its supporters on both sides a disservice by throwing a not-quite-fully-formed piece into the fray.

Moving forward from here

So I guess now comes the correction back to the middle. I was far too proud of an article that started off strong and then veered a little too close to wild speculation for some people's comfort, but more importantly threw entire clusters of people under the bus for no discernible reason other than selfish attempts at looking clever and humorous.

I then had that brought smack in my face and felt like a fraud who wanted to just throw in the towel and walk away, which is of course the complete polar opposite kind of wrong. My being reminded of something of myself, correct or not, doesn't really detract from the article itself. The article is a useful piece of writing that didn't get where it wanted to go in all the right ways, but that doesn't make the end destination unworthy.

Going forward, I'm aiming to continue this conversation with anyone who cares to discuss it, no matter their allegiance or opinion, and do my best to be someone who works hard at bridging the gap. I think that there are far too many at the polar opposite extremes of the UA/UAB divide, in large part due to a lack of desire to see beyond social-media-sized soundbytes.

Between my soon-to-come discussion with Erik and perhaps other discussions, I'm hoping to continue trying to paint a full and clear picture that offers both problems and solutions that are legitimately useful to those wanting to support a truly worthy cause. Regardless of their initial rooting interest.