The Wire

  • Hoover boycott leader defends Louis Farrakhan, talks about ‘the enemy’

    Excerpt:

    Student minister Tremon Muhammad, who leads the Nation of Islam’s Birmingham mosque, took to Facebook Monday evening to defend Louis Farrakhan and attack the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and “all of those that are aligned with them.”

    Muhammad, who posted his thoughts in an approximately 45-minute Facebook Live video, was reacting to Yellowhammer News’ article from earlier that day that revealed he was leading the Hoover boycott efforts in the wake of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford, Jr.’s death in an officer-involved shooting at the Riverchase Galleria on Thanksgiving night.

    “[W]hat’s happening in Birmingham is just a sign of what’s going to be happening all across America,” Muhammad said.

  • Sessions makes first speech since resigning as attorney general, still supports Trump’s agenda

    Excerpt:

    Speaking at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s 146th annual meeting on Tuesday, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered his first public remarks since leaving President Donald Trump’s administration.

    Despite his forced resignation and having been on the raw end of several Trump tweets and public comments this year, Sessions graciously made clear that he still supports the work the president is doing, praising the administration’s successes and some ongoing agenda items in a roughly 20-minute speech. He did not directly address speculation that he could run to return to the United States Senate in 2020.

    He did, however, add some levity to the situation, with the crowd of approximately 600 enjoying a few trademark Sessions jokes.

    “I’ve had a few ups and downs in th

  • Ledbetter: Around a ’75 percent’ chance higher gas tax passes

    Excerpt:

    The gas tax may be a foregone conclusion if you listen to the leadership of the Alabama legislature.

    Infrastructure needs are undoubtedly a priority heading into the next legislative session; how they get addressed is the battle we will see fought out.

    A gas tax of up to 12 cents a gallon has been discussed, but according to Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, the target for a tax increase in Alabama is more likely to be in the six to 10 cent range, which could raise between $180 million and $300 million dollars a year.

    While appearing Tuesday on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show,” Ledbetter was optimistic about the chances of the tax passing legislation.

2 years ago

Likely Trump VP Mike Pence in Alabama: We must return power to the states


(Video above: Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims interviews Indiana Gov. Mike Pence)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — News began to leak Thursday morning that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will likely be announced as Donald J. Trump’s running mate during a Friday morning press conference.

With over a decade of experience in Congress and a full term as Governor of Indiana under his belt, Pence is expected to bring decades of conservative street cred — particularly on social issues — to the Trump ticket.

In 2014, Pence visited Alabama for a Republican Party event and sat down with Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims for a one-on-one interview prior to the event.

At the time Pence was being floated as a possible presidential contender, and Sims pressed him on whether he was going to run for re-election or make a national run.

“People who know me well know that I’m not a longterm planner,” Pence said. “I tend to think stay focused on the job that’s in front of you, stay focused on the people on Indiana and my future will take care of itself.”

Pence ultimately opted against a presidential run himself, but told Sims his time in Congress and as a state’s chief executive would uniquely prepare him for what now may be a role in a Trump administration. He also laid out a vision for Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., that would focus on returning power to the states.

“I was privileged to represent our state in our nation’s capital, and I will always cherish those years,” he explained. “Being a member of the Congress and being the chief executive of the great state of Indiana are two different types of leadership. I’ve learned so much and felt very privileged to be governor of my state at such a time as this.

“There are some people who say the next president ought to be a governor, and I’m certainly sympathetic to that view,” he laughed. “Let me say, all joking aside, I really do believe my experience in Washington and now my experience leading the state of Indiana tells me that the cure for what ails this country is going to come more from our state capitols than it ever will from our nation’s capitol… States are particularly well suited to craft the kind of policies that will encourage investment, create economic growth, create educational attainment and improve the quality of life of our citizens. I really do believe that renewed Republican majorities in Washington, D.C., and a new administration should make it their aim not merely to cut government spending in Washington, but we must demand that any new Republican leadership in Washington permanently reduce the size and scope of the federal government by restoring to the states the resources and the flexibility that is rightfully theirs under the Constitution.”

Trump has not been very specific about what he is looking for in a running mate, but did suggest to MSNBC’s Morning Joe team that someone with inside-the-Beltway experience could be helpful. Pence served in Congress for six terms.

“I think I’ll probably go the political route,” said Trump. “Somebody that can help me with legislation and somebody that can help me get things passed and somebody that’s been friends with the senators and the congressmen and all.”

Trump’s vice presidential announcement is set to take place Friday morning in New York City. For more segments from Yellowhammer’s sit-down with Gov. Pence, check out the links below.

Pence in Alabama discussing opting out of Common Core (Video)
Pence backs Gary Palmer for Alabama’s 6th Congressional District seat
Pence defends Medicaid expansion during stop in Alabama

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2 years ago

New Alabama GE Aviation facility will be ‘unique in the world’

GE Avation's facility in Auburn (Photo: Made in Alabama)

GE Avation's facility in Auburn (Photo: Made in Alabama)
GE Avation’s facility in Auburn (Photo: Made in Alabama)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – General Electric Aviation broke ground on two new facilities in Alabama this week that will work together in a partnership that is not found anywhere else in the world.

The $200 million project will mass-produce silicon carbide (SiC) materials used to manufacture ceramic matrix composite components (CMCs) for jet engines and land-based gas turbines. One facility will create the raw SiC material and the other will turn it into tape for CMC components. The Huntsville location marks the first time these two processes will be in the same location.

“It will be unique in the world,” said Sanjay Correa, vice president of the CMC Program at GE Aviation. “This is the one and only place in the world where it will all be in one place.”

The Huntsville location is the only SiC facility in the United States so far. The only other two SiC plants in the world are located in Japan and France. The Huntsville-made tape will be used by GE Aviation at its CMC manufacturing facility in Asheville, N.C.

The new facilities will be located near the Polaris factory and the site of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s new mega site. Once the GE plants are completed, the company will employ up to 300 workers.

“There is a host of jobs, everything from engineering talent down to technicians and operators of chemical equipment all the way through the basic facility staff, from maintenance and shipping and all the things you would need to support a main manufacturing facility,” said GE Aviation CMC Industrialization Leader Matt O’Connell.

To bring these facilities to Huntsville, the state incentivized GE with a job-creation credit of $3.5M and an investment credit of $12.4M each to be paid over 10 years. The U.S. Air Force Research Lab Title III Office will fund the ceramic fiber plant with $21.9 million, and GE will be responsible for financing the CMC tape operation. The City of Huntsville will contribute $1 million to the project and the Huntsville Industrial Development Board will provide an additional $1.5 million. Madison and Limestone counties will also make contributions.

This is GE’s second investment in Alabama. In 2010, the company built a partnership in Auburn to create a $100 million, 300,000-square-foot factory to build jet engine components.

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2 years ago

Alabama has one of the summer’s top travel destinations – but it’s not the beach

Birmingham, Alabama skyline
Birmingham, Alabama skyline
Birmingham, Alabama skyline

Looking for a fun place to visit for the summer? Well look no further than Sweet Home Alabama. The Yellowhammer State is home to one of Forbes’ 20 best summer destinations, but it’s not where you might think. While Alabama’s beaches are some of the best in the world, Forbes listed Birmingham among the 20 best cities for summer travel in North America.

Forbes partnered with travel site Lonely Planet to create a list of 20 cities throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Here’s what they had to say about Birmingham:

Lonely Planet called Birmingham one of the most unexpectedly exciting places to see in the U.S. in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. History buffs can tour the Civil Rights District; music-lovers can explore the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and foodies have a plethora of great dining spots like barbecue at Saw’s. Looking for drinks? There’s a 24-hour bar filled with comic book art and Star Wars memorabilia.

Forbes and Lonely Planet based their list on factors that included cost of accommodations (and whether Airbnb or home-sharing was available), accessibility of the destination, and the price of entertainment and cultural attractions. Forbes specifically wanted to find destinations that would appeal to younger travelers.

Other U.S. cities included on the list were Austin, TX; Boulder, CO, Jacksonville, FL; Las Vegas, NV; Oakland, CA; Palm Springs, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; St. Louis, MO; and Washington, D.C.

Birmingham’s stock continues to rise. The Magic City has seen a revival of sorts in the past decade. According to the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Magic City has been included on 117 positive ranking national lists since 2011, including 26 already in 2016. Birmingham has been called one of the most misunderstood cities, one of the happiest cities for workers, the best city for millennial entrepreneurs, one of the best cities for first time home buyers, one of the best cities for employee engagement, along with many more accolades.

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2 years ago

The emotional story behind an Alabama family’s viral photo

The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)
The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)
The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)

PHENIX CITY, Ala. – An emotional image of a grandfather and his infant grandson that is taking the internet by storm was photographed right here in Alabama.

Allan Halstead and his grandson Kolbie Gregware share a special bond. Though one of them is 67 and the other is less than a year old, they’ve both had open-heart surgeries. Kolbie was born with Down syndrome and had issues with his heart, lungs, and kidneys. He spent the first few months of his life in and out of the NICU before having his first open-heart surgery at 4 months old.

Halstead, a Vietnam veteran, has had two open-heart surgeries as well as a whole host of heart-related complications. Right now his heart is operating at 10 percent and has to take medication to help it maintain that level. Brandy Gregware, Halstead’s daughter and Kolbie’s mother, knows her father is on “borrowed time.”

Once Kolbie was healthy enough to leave the hospital, Gregware knew that she needed to get photos of her sons with her father before time ran out. Luckily, Phenix City-based photographer Sunshine Moody heard about Kolbie’s story and offered to take the photos for free. Kolbie was in the same NICU unit as Moody’s daughter had been, so she already empathized with the Gregwares.

The photos Moody took highlight the bond that Kolbie and his grandfather share.

“Kolbie is very bonded with me, but my dad, he just sits there and stares at him for hours like he’s God,” Gregware said.

The scars Kolbie and Halstead share from their surgeries – their “matching zippers” – are the focus of one of Moody’s photos that has gone viral. Of all the photos she took, this one jumped out to Moody as she started to edit the pictures. “I pulled out my computer and scrolled through and it immediately caught my eye. It was the first one I edited. And I spent over an hour on it alone,” she said.

“I’ll admit I was scared to be trusted with such a powerful photo.”

The photo has been shared all over the internet, including AOL, ABC News, Inside Edition, Women’s Day Magazine, and even British-based sites like The Daily Mail and Mirror. Ashton Kutcher even shared the photo on his Facebook page. The image has captured the hearts of people worldwide, which is pretty mind-blowing for Moody.

“I’m a really, really small town photographer… I do this as more of a hobby than a career,” she said.

For Gregware, the response to the photo has been an inspiration.

“I have received tons of messages from people saying it has given them hope,” she said. “They can proudly wear their scars. God gave you an obstacle so show it, and show it proud.”

Kolbie, who will turn one year old this summer, has been stable and home from the hospital for 30 days. Halstead has “good and bad days,” but remains in high spirits. Gregware knows that their remaining time together is short, but Moody’s photos will allow their bond to continue to inspire people all over the world.

“They’re both walking miracles. They just have a bond that is unbelievable and I wanted to share that for people so they could see that miracles happen — they happen every day and I wanted to make sure people know they can happen.”

1
2 years ago

Alabama and Auburn are two of the richest football programs in the SEC

aubie big al

Saturdays in the fall are practically religious holidays in Alabama. Thousands of fans make weekly journeys to Tuscaloosa or Auburn to cheer on their favorite team. Many fans will even follow their teams around the country as they travel to other stadiums. All those trips to Auburn and Tuscaloosa, along with the national exposure both teams receive, generate lots of money both programs. In fact, Alabama and Auburn are two of the richest football programs in the SEC.

Based on filings with the U.S. Department of Education, the Alabama Crimson Tide are worth $97.02 million, making it the wealthiest program in the SEC. The Auburn Tigers ranked third with $86.74 million.

The University of Tennessee stands in between Auburn and Alabama at number 2. With one of the nation’s largest stadiums, the Volunteers still bring thousands of fans to Knoxville, despite a lackluster performance in recent years.

Vanderbilt has the “poorest” program in the SEC with $27.4 million. The only private institution in the league, the Commodores also have the smallest stadium and string of disappointing records. The program only made $3 million in profit in 2014.

Here’s the complete ranking of SEC schools from richest to poorest:

1. Alabama — $97.02 million
2. Tennessee — $94.37 million
3. Auburn — $86.74 million
4. Georgia — $86.71 million
5. LSU — $86.31 million
6. Florida — $74.72 million
7. Arkansas — $66.17 million
8. Texas A&M — $62.19 million
9. South Carolina — $59.76 million
10. Ole Miss — $53.39 million
11. Missouri — $37.89 million
12. Kentucky — $31.49 million
13. Mississippi State — $31.3 million
14. Vanderbilt — $27.4 million

Forbes releases an annual list of the 20 most valuable college football teams, but they use data beyond the schools’ filings with the Department of Education. They study university value, athletic department value, conference value, and impact on local economies. On Forbes’ list, Alabama ranks number 8, and Auburn comes in at number 10. The Texas Longhorns took the top spot. The way the data is analyzed, Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia are all ranked above Alabama on Forbes’ list. Nine SEC teams were included on the list released by Forbes. Alabama and Auburn have consistently been included on Forbes’ yearly list.

Regardless of where they land on a list, it’s undeniable that Auburn and Alabama are two of the most profitable college football programs in the country. Both teams receive national coverage every weekend in the fall, and the Iron Bowl is constantly touted as the greatest rivalry in college football. The passionate fan bases of both teams ensure that the Tide and the Tigers will remain profitable for decades to come.

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2 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court Justice seeks to hold off suspension with federal lawsuit

Alabama Supreme Court
Alabama Supreme Court

MONTGOMERY – Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker has filed a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission to block his potential suspension from the bench.

The JIC has been investigating Justice Parker on the basis that comments he made on gay marriage violated judicial canons of ethics. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed complaints in October that Parker inappropriately commented on the pending same-sex marriage ruling and voiced his personal opinions on the issue on a conservative radio talk show, which they believe violated Judicial Canons 1, 2A, and 3A(6).

“These provisions (of law) are being used by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and its allies on the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) in an attempt to intimidate, silence, and punish Justice Parker for his originalist judicial philosophy and protected speech,” Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, who represents Parker, said in a statement.

Although the JIC has not yet filed any charges against Parker, his lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and the state law that automatically suspends a judge when JIC files charges. Judges who are suspended can return to their office depending on the outcome of a trial in front of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary

The lawsuit also claims Parker’s free speech rights have been infringed upon and have negatively affected his re-election campaign. “That harm is continuing and, in fact, increasing as the election approaches and forces him to engage in self-censorship,” the lawsuit states.

Parker’s lawsuit follows one filed by Chief Justice Roy Moore after the JIC suspended him in May for “flagrantly disregard(ing) and abus(ing) his authority” with respect to the issue of same sex marriage. Moore’s lawsuit seeks to make the suspension provision unconstitutional. The Southern Poverty Law Center was also involved in filing charges against Moore.

After a federal court struck down Alabama’s gay marriage ban, Moore instructed probate judges around the state to ignore the court’s order and continue upholding the Alabama Constitution, which affirms the traditional definition of marriage. Most probate judges around the state are now issuing same sex marriage licenses, while a handful have opted to stop issuing marriage licenses all together, rather than violate their conscience.

(h/t AL.com)

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2 years ago

Alabama political scandals get ‘The Daily Show’ treatment

The Daily Show takes on Alabama scandals

(Video above: The Daily Show takes on Alabama politics)

Last night, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” weighed in on the current state of Alabama politics – and it didn’t hold back.

During the seven-minute segment, host Trevor Noah made jokes about the three Alabama scandals making headlines around the country.

“Alabama – also known as “Liberal Mississippi” – they’re in a bit of a meltdown,” Noah began.

Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension over his position on same-sex marriage was dealt with quickly. “A Southern judge opposing gays – that’s the least surprising thing since Cookie Monster got diabetes,” Noah said.

Former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was up next. The Daily Show found what could be one of the most stereotypical, local commercial-level videos of Hubbard, one where he endorsed something called “Chicken Finger Friday.” Noah discussed Hubbard’s lengthy political tenure and his power throughout the state. He even referenced the road named after Hubbard in Auburn – one that some are already trying to get renamed.

Noah then summarized the 12 counts of corruption Hubbard was found guilty of, including “funneling money from lobbyists into his printing company for political favors.”

“Which is despicable,” Noah said. “I mean, this is 2016 people, who puts money into printing companies? This is the future, you want to invest in beepers, my friends!”

Then came Governor Bentley, who received the full force of the show’s satire. Noah played the video from Bentley’s first press conference the audio recordings between him and his top advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, were released. The clip showed Bentley saying he loved all members of his staff, “but do I love some more than others? Absolutely.”

“That is such a ballsy way to handle a scandal,” Noah laughed. “Most people’s instinct is to deny something they’re accused of. This guy doubles down!”

“I wish I had this thought process when I was a kid,” he continued. “I would have got away with anything. My momma would have been like, ‘Did you eat the cookies?’ and I would have been like, ‘I eat many things mom! I eat Corn Flakes, I eat broccoli…do I eat some foods more than others sometimes? That is a possibility!”

In the most ridiculous part of the segment, The Daily Show played part of the now-infamous recording, which Noah described as “really bad phone sex. Or, a pretty good country song.” The show then actually put the dialogue from the recording to country music, complete with music video-quality images of a man and wife on a farm.

Noah then welcomed Roy Wood, Jr., a regular correspondent on the show and an Alabama native, to share his thoughts. Wood appeared in a white suit, a hat, and a bow tie – an outfit he called his “Alabama swag.”

“Trevor, this scandal is pretty upsetting, but I’m very relieved,” Wood began. “Finally, there’s bad news coming out of Alabama, and black people aren’t involved!”

Wood, who has quickly become the breakout star of the revamped show, even threw in a “Roll Tide” during his remarks.

The Daily Show is not the first group of comedians to comment on the current state of Alabama politics. In April, British comedian John Oliver shared his thoughts on Governor Bentley’s scandal and the impeachment process on his HBO series “Last Week Tonight.”

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2 years ago

Massive Huntsville area just became the newest ‘mega site’ for the TVA

Downtown Huntsville, Alabama
Downtown Huntsville, Alabama
Downtown Huntsville, Alabama

HUNTSVILLE – A huge 1,252-acre property outside Huntsville is the newest “mega site” for the Tennessee Valley Authority and is ready to welcome new business to the state, officials from the City of Huntsville and Limestone County announced today.

The new mega site certification will help Huntsville compete internationally to bring large-scale industrial and manufacturing projects to the region. Status as a certified mega site makes the property significantly more appealing to companies because it shows that the area has already been properly studied, providing for a faster development period.

“The certification is our international calling card telling global manufacturers we are open for business and a prime place for industry and jobs,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “This site should attract a high tech, high end company for worldwide customers.”

Governor Bentley also praised the new development for expanding Alabama’s economy.

“With this certification in hand, the Huntsville Mega Site is well positioned for a wide range of large-scale projects from major companies based around the world,” he said in a press release. “The Huntsville area has been a main driver of growth for the state, and this will make it even more attractive for new investment and well-paying jobs.”

To become a TVA-certified mega site, an area must have at least 1,000 acres, Interstate access, potential railroad access, and sufficient utility services. The site must also pass a number of due diligence studies to prove that any operations on the land would not damage the environmental, historical, or cultural nature of the area.

Huntsville is the eighth mega site for the TVA. Five of the seven existing sites have already landed major industrial projects with investments of over $5 billion. The mega site program was first established 12 years ago and has already helped create over 30,000 jobs throughout the region.

Mayor Battle expects that trend to continue with the new Huntsville mega site.

“You can move an industry in here, you can start working and you can expect 2,000 to 4,000 jobs. Each one of those jobs has a job multiplier and has 2.5 more jobs attached to it, so it’s a great thing for economic success of the area,” he said.

Huntsville leaders started the process of certifying the land in 2011 after the city lost the first U.S.-based Volkswagen plant to Chattanooga, TN. Volkswagen passed on the Huntsville land because it had not been tested for soil contamination or a number of other potential issues. But now companies will have all the facts up front, thanks to the TVA certification.

While the new site will have the biggest impact on Huntsville, Bill Johnson, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, believes the rest of the Tennessee Valley will benefit as well.

“The entire economy of the Tennessee Valley is a seamless web of communities that support and strengthen each other, so the creation of the Huntsville Mega Site is a victory for the entire Valley.”

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2 years ago

Best-selling artist holds private performance at Alabama children’s hospital

Jason Mraz performs at Children's Hospital


(Video above: Jason Mraz performs for patients at Children’s)

BIRMINGHAM — Two-time Grammy award winner Jason Mraz played a special concert for patients at Children’s Hospital on Monday before his sold-out concert at Iron City. The performance was part of a new partnership between Iron City and Children’s Hospital.

Mraz performed a few songs for the crowd in the lobby before he visited patients who were unable to leave their rooms. One of those patients was a massive fan of Mraz, so when he appeared in her room, she was speechless. The singer-songwriter even signed a few autographs for the patients. Chandler Bibb, Director of Development for Children’s, said even those who didn’t know of Mraz’s music enjoyed his performance.

“One little boy at the concert leaned up to [Mraz] and asked, ‘How did you get so good at the guitar?’ When Mraz said it was practice, the boy said, ‘I’m not good at practice.’”

Mraz’s visit to Children’s is part of a new partnership between the hospital and Iron City. The program, called Artists Care, allows musicians who perform at Iron City to have the opportunity to visit and perform for patients or donate memorabilia.

“This is really something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Mike Creager, general manager of Iron City. “It started with a few inspiring conversations I’ve had with artists over the past years. The goal is to help the kids of Children’s hospital and to directly affect their lives, with performances from the artist, a visit from the artist or money raised from memorabilia.”

The program launched in February with country star Blake Shelton, who donated a signed child’s sized guitar. Shelton would have visited the hospital in person, but his time was short before his free, surprise concert at Iron City.

Mraz is the first artist to visit and perform at Children’s as part of the Artists Care program. He was thrilled with the idea and agreed instantly.

“He did whatever he could to make it a special visit,” Bibb said.

The partnership between Iron City and Children’s is still growing, but the Artists Care program already has had a positive impact.

“There were smiles all over the place,” said Bibb. “That’s what we try to do… when these artists come in to entertain the patients… it’s about how to bring childhood in the hospital, or make them have a better time while they’re here.”

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2 years ago

Check out Richard Shelby’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo on new CBS political drama

Senator Richard Shelby's name as it appeared on CBS's BrainDead
Senator Richard Shelby's name as it appeared on CBS's BrainDead

Senator Richard Shelby’s name as it appeared on CBS’s BrainDead

 

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) had a background name drop in the first episode of CBS’s new summer political/sci-fi drama, “BrainDead.”

In the final minutes of the first episode, a closed door can be seen in the background with a name card for “Senator Richard Shelby – Alabama” on the wall. Shelby is never mentioned by name or appears on screen, but the appearance of his name helps ground the show in a pseudo-reality.

BrainDead” is almost purely satire, but it puts real politics and politicians in the foreground as much as possible. The premier featured a number of television and audio clips from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. The main characters on the show are completely fictional, but the audience is supposed to believe that they exist alongside real politicians like Senator Shelby.

The new series from Robert and Michelle King (creators of “The Good Wife”) stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”), Danny Pino (“Scandal,” “Law & Order: SVU”), Aaron Tveit (“Graceland,” “Grease: Live!”), and Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”).

BrainDead brings a different spin to the growing genre of television political dramas. The catalyst for the show’s central plot is a meteor that crashed down to the earth that released thousands of ant-like extraterrestrials that crawled straight into the brains of congressmen and other D.C. elites. The creatures alter their hosts’ brains and personalities, turning them into hyper-focused, robotic politicians. The remaining characters have to figure out what’s going on.

The balance between the science fiction aspect and real politics is designed to make viewers feel strangely uncomfortable. The central plot of the first episode involves a government shutdown after Republicans and Democrats fail to reach a compromise. Sound familiar? At the same time, the fantastic elements allow viewers to distance themselves from reality.

“I think it’s a bit of escapism. Anything that’s kind of heightened or larger than life can be a way to kind of look at what’s actually happening and laugh at it,” Tveit said in an interview with E! News. “And just separate yourself from it. That’s what’s great about these summer series, to just go on this little ride and see how it goes. With this, the reality is so kind of tough and depressing that if you can find anyway to laugh at it is good, so hopefully people can use this to laugh at it.”

The show is neither pro-Republican nor pro-Democrat, but in the current state of real politics, BrainDead hopes to give viewers a way to release the tension they may be feeling.

Who knows; maybe some other Alabama politicians will make appearances as the show unfolds.

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2 years ago

Auburn residents want convicted House Speaker’s name removed from the city and university

mike hubbard auburn
AUBURN, Ala. — Before he was convicted on 12 felony ethics charges, Mike Hubbard used his position as Speaker of the House to support his home city of Auburn and Auburn University. His impact on the city and the university was so great, that many buildings and roads there now bear his name. But the events of last week have many Auburn residents calling for a change.

In 2013, Auburn University opened the Mike Hubbard Center for Advanced Science, Innovation, and Commerce. The $28.8 million, 84,000 square-foot facility houses researchers from the Colleges of Architecture, Agriculture, Engineering, Sciences and Mathematics, and Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The Auburn Board of Trustees voted to name the building in honor of Hubbard in 2012 after the then-Speaker helped the university secure $14.1 million in state funds to match a $14.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Now, the Board of Trustees must decide if they want to rename the building, which is a complex and multi-step process that may take months or years.

Hubbard’s name is also attached to a major road in Auburn. Mike Hubbard Boulevard is the home of Auburn University’s Cyber Initiative office and the Regional Airport. A petition has already been posted to MoveOn.org to rename the street “Cam Newton Run” after the former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner. So far the petition has 186 signatures of the 200 needed to send it to Auburn Mayor Bill Ham.

The background for the petition explains the reasoning behind the change:

With exit 57 serving as a prominent gateway to Auburn fans, prospective students, opponents and the like, “Cam Newton Run” recognizes one of Auburn’s most famous graduates and athletes who has served as a prominent and effective ambassador for Auburn both on and off the field. This rename also serves as a way to depoliticize what may be considered by many in this community to be a painful yet imminent name change. WDE and thanks for the support.

The Auburn City Council has already received a number of phone calls asking them to rename the road.

These changes may be the first in a massive fallout from Hubbard’s conviction. He will be sentenced on July 8 and faces up to 20 years in prison for each count.

Related: Alabama House speaker Mike Hubbard convicted
Related: Alabama’s most powerful politician has fallen. Here’s what (and who) is next.

1
2 years ago

Positivity and Awareness: Alabama sheriff shares his cancer story

Sheriff Mike Hale
Sheriff Mike Hale
Sheriff Mike Hale

Jefferson County’s long-time sheriff Mike Hale is currently battling prostate cancer, but he isn’t letting it slow him down.

“I’m kind of tired. I come back to the office, eat an early lunch, have a nap. I don’t think citizens will begrudge me that,” Hale told WBRC last week.

The JeffCo sheriff found out he had prostate cancer about three months ago during a routine physical with Dr. Mike Chandler, the Chief Medical Officer for the JeffCo Sheriff’s Office. During the exam, Dr. Chandler performed a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test and noticed a spike in the sheriff’s PSA levels. While high PSA levels alone don’t necessarily mean cancer, it was enough to schedule more tests.

After being referred to a local hospital for a few biopsies, Hale had an MRI that confirmed his prostate cancer. Luckily the cancer had not spread to the bones or anywhere else in his body. Hale is currently undergoing an eight-week radiation treatment.

While cancer can be a scary diagnosis for anyone, Hale has a strong inspiration by his side. His wife, Dianna, battled breast cancer and has been cancer-free for seven years. Hale stood by her side during her dark days, and how she is standing by him.

“I’m blessed to have D on my side. She is battle tested and battled scarred,” he said.

One thing he learned from watching his wife battle breast cancer was the community and mentoring relationships that exist between women with breast cancer. So Hale reached out to former Jefferson County Deputy Chief Carl Johnson, who also had prostate cancer, as a resource for questions and support.

Hale wants his story to be a reminder to others to get regular check ups. Throughout the process he has remained positive and looks forward to finishing radiation treatments and beating his cancer.

Sheriff Hale has been in law enforcement in Alabama for 42 years. He started his career at the Homewood Police Department in 1973 before transferring to the Sheriff’s Office in 1976. Hale was first elected sheriff of Jefferson County in 1998 and has been reelected four times since.

During his tenure as sheriff, Hale has strengthened and grown the Sheriff’s Office. He fought to change Alabama’s convicted sex offender law and make it the strongest of its kind in the country. He also pioneered the first Identity Theft Unit and Computer Forensics Unit in the region. In 1999 he created the Sheriff’s Office School Resource Division for County Schools to fight Domestic Terrorism, a division that has since been named a National Model for Law Enforcement Agencies across the country.

(h/t WBRC)

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2 years ago

University of Alabama student contracts Zika Virus

Zika virus

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A student at the University of Alabama has tested positive for Zika virus, the school announced yesterday. The student had recently studied abroad and is believed to have contracted the virus while overseas.

“Federal privacy laws prevent us from commenting on the student’s condition; however, in the majority of Zika cases, individuals make a full recovery within a week,” said University of Alabama spokesman Chris Bryant.

Bryant also stated that students who have recently studied abroad in Central and South America and the Caribbean have been notified and urged to get tested at the UA Student Health Center or their personal healthcare providers.

Almost all of the Zika cases in the United States have been travel-related. Only 11 of the 691 documented cases have been contracted through sexual contact with infected individuals. The UA student marks the sixth confirmed case of Zika in Alabama.

Zika virus is spread mainly through the bites of Aedes species mosquitoes but also can be transmitted through infected blood and sex. Only about 1 in 5 people infected with the virus become ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those who do get sick, Dr. David Freedman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UAB, describes Zika as “like a bad flu with a rash.” Symptoms include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, red eyes and headache.

Those who are at the greatest risk are women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

That’s because the Zika virus, after a widespread outbreak in Brazil in early 2015, has been linked to a spike in microcephaly in babies born in the virus-affected areas. Microcephaly is an abnormal smallness of the head, with complications that include developmental delays, stunted growth, seizures and mental retardation.

The best thing health officials suggest is not traveling to places with confirmed Zika outbreaks. In Alabama, experts advise residents to take serious precautions against mosquitoes – like eliminate pools of stagnant water, stay in screened-in or air conditioned rooms, wear long sleeved shirts and pants, and always apply mosquito repellent.

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2 years ago

Auburn’s pre-health program sends record numbers to medical school

Auburn University's Samford Hall
Auburn University’s Samford Hall

AUBURN, Ala. — Graduates from Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics are some of the most successful students in the country when it comes to getting accepted to medical school.

Auburn students are consistently accepted to medical school at a rate that is 30 percent higher than then national average. And it’s not just medical school where Auburn students succeed; the acceptance rate of Auburn students to optometry and dental schools normally ranges from 85-100%. Auburn has cultivated a pre-med program that helps students find the best way to succeed and further their careers.

Faculty and students in the College of Sciences and Mathematics point to Beverly Childress, the pre-health professions director, as the reason for Auburn’s success in molding future medical professionals. Childress takes personal interest in every student and guides him or her through orientation, academic advising, mock interviews, the application process, and more. Her dedication has propelled Auburn students to some of the best medical schools in the country.

Childress and Auburn’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by medical school faculty, either. One Auburn graduate recalled one of her advisors for UAB’s medical school praising Auburn’s pre-admissions program in front of her whole class.

Medical schools are notoriously difficult to get into, and record numbers of students apply every year. In fact, many medical schools are increasing the number of students they accept to meet the growing demand. In 2013, over 48,000 students applied to medical school, but only 41% were accepted. Some of the most prestigious schools in the country have incredibly small acceptance rates. For example, Florida State University’s med school accepts 2.4% of applicants.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Medical School is also highly selective. UAB has made a name for itself as one of the best medical schools in the country, and students are taking notice. The U.S. News & World Report ranked UAB as the 35th best medical school for research and the 21st best for primary care. The number of students who apply to UAB has grown every year. In 2015, 3,720 students applied to UAB, and the school only accepted 265, a 7% acceptance rate. Of those accepted, only 186 enrolled in the fall.

The University of South Alabama has a comparable acceptance rate to UAB, but it has a much smaller pool of applicants and a smaller class size.

Although applying to medical school may feel like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle, Auburn students breathe a little easier thanks to the preparation they receive from the faculty of the College of Sciences and Mathematics.

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2 years ago

Local Alabama ministry shares message of love and peace with police officers

A police officer wearing a "Blessed are the peacemakers" bracelet
A police officer wearing a "Blessed are the peacemakers" bracelet
A police officer wearing a “Blessed are the peacemakers” bracelet

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Police officers in central Alabama are receiving support from a new ministry dedicated to sharing God’s love.

Paul Trammell of Tuscaloosa has had enough of the negative words thrown at police officers these days, so he decided to do something about it. He created The Matthew 5:9 Project, a ministry with a simple mission of supporting law enforcement officers in Alabama.

Trammell ordered several hundred blue rubber bracelets with the phrase “Blessed are the peacemakers” written on them. The message, which comes from Matthew 5:9, is one of the Beatitudes originally delivered as part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. Trammell gives the bracelets to any officer he meets.

“Basically, the thought came to my head – blessed are the peacemakers – and that was not the thought of mine,” Trammell told ABC 33/40. “It just came to me out of the blue. So, I know that came from above.”

Trammell has already lost count of the number of bracelets he’s handed out over the past month, but the gesture is certainly lifting officers’ spirits. Many officers have posted pictures of themselves wearing the bracelets on The Matthew 5:9 Project’s Facebook page. One policewoman described how the bracelet lifted her spirits after a particularly bad day. Other officers say the bracelets strengthen their sense of security.

When Trammell gives an officer one of his bracelets, he explains his mission: “I just want to tell you, I appreciate what you do every day. We understand when you put the uniform on that your life is in danger and we want you to know we appreciate it and we’re praying for you. We want to give you this, as a reminder that you got people praying for your safety every day and appreciate what you do.”

If you want to join The Matthew 5:9 Project, the ministry’s Facebook page includes directions on how to get involved or how to make a donation. Trammell’s best advice on what to say to an officer when you give him or her a bracelet? “Say what’s on your heart.”

(h/t ABC 33/40)

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2 years ago

Auburn researchers are helping cure a deadly genetic disease using sheep from Biblical times

auburn sheep

Researchers at Auburn University leading the way with scientists searching for a cure for Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease that affects humans and animals alike.

The Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium has created a gene therapy that has been successful in extending the life of cats and Jacob sheep with Tay-Sachs. The consortium’s next step is to get federal approval to start clinical trials on humans within the next year.

“There is no question now the disease can be treated,” said Doug Martin, a consortium member and professor of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology at Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s not perfect, but it can be improved.”

Martin, who studies Tay-Sachs in cats and sheep at the Scott-Ritchey Research Center in Auburn, developed a treatment that is administered by precise injections through holes in the skull, breaking the blood-brain barrier. The ultimate goal is to develop an IV drip that fully treats the central nervous system by providing doses to the brain and circulatory system.

“The treatment is in the first generation,” said Susan Kahn, executive director of the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association (NTSAD), which helps fund research by the consortium and other scientists exploring different treatment methods. “But I think the promise for the future is very positive.”

Auburn’s Scott-Ritchey Research Center started studying Tay-Sachs in animals in the 1960s. Tay-Sachs is caused when the body does not produce enough of an enzyme, Hexosaminidase A (HexA), which recycles toxins from the body. The toxins build and progressively destroy the nervous system. The disease is genetic and deadly for children, usually killing them before they turn 5 years old.

Approximately 1 out of every 320,000 newborns in the U.S. is affected by the disease. Ashkenazi Jews, French Canadians, and American Cajuns are those at highest risk. Both parents must be a carrier to pass on the disease to their children. There is also a strain of Tay-Sachs that affects adults, but it is not as fatal as it is in children.

The new treatment developed by the consortium started after two Jacob sheep – a rare breed that dates back to Biblical times and named after Abraham’s grandson Jacob – became sick and died at a ranch in Texas. Edwin Kolodny, who co-founded the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium in 2007, determined that the sheep died from Tay-Sachs and offered to buy the entire herd to continue testing for a cure. The sheep’s owners were happy to help.

“I have never been more touched than when I learned this could help children,” said Joan Horak, the herd’s original owner.

The herd was shipped off to Auburn in 2013 where they are still used to find a cure for Tay-Sachs. The Jacob sheep are important to this study because their genes that code for Tay-Sachs share an 86% DNA match with the HexA gene in humans.

While a cure for Tay-Sachs is still a long ways away, Martin says the advancement of gene therapy technology has set research to hyperspeed. The researchers at Auburn are only one part of a national team, but their contributions could one day save the lives of thousands of children in the future.

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3 years ago

University of Alabama law school recognized as one of the best in the nation

University of Alabama quad (Photo: University of Alabama)
University of Alabama quad (Photo: University of Alabama)
University of Alabama quad (Photo: University of Alabama)

The University of Alabama School of Law has once again received national recognition as one of the top law schools in the country.

Above the Law released its fourth annual list of the 50 best law schools in the nation, largely based on the success law students have finding jobs after graduation. The site believes “potential students should prioritize their future employment prospects over all other factors in deciding whether and where to attend law school. The relative quality of schools is a function of how they deliver on the promise of gainful legal employment.”

The University of Alabama is number 26 on this year’s list, rising six spots from last year. In 2014 the school came in at number 28, and landed at number 27 in 2013. UA is the only law school in Alabama to be included on the list.

Five other SEC schools were included: Vanderbilt Law School (15), University of Georgia Law School (23), University of Florida – Levin College Law (30), LSU’s Herbert Law Center (43), and University of Missouri (44).

Most of the top schools on the list are Ivy League institutions. Yale Law was number 1, knocking off Harvard from that position last year. Stanford Law School, University of Chicago School of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Harvard Law School completed the top five.

Above the Law put a strong focus on outcomes for this list, so they studied data concerning students who obtain real law jobs, the quality of those positions, cost of school and amount of debt, and alumni satisfaction. In the class of 2015, only 59% of law school graduates landed “real lawyer jobs.” Twenty-eight percent found employment in other fields, ten percent were unemployed, and three percent were in law school funded positions, meaning forty-one percent of law school grads did not secure jobs in the law.

Inclusion on this list is just one of many accolades the University of Alabama School of Law has received. In 2015 the U.S. News & World Report ranked it among the top 25 law schools in the country, and graduates of the school pass the bar exam on their first try more often than graduates from Yale, Vanderbilt, Duke, and Cornell.

(H/T AL.com)

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3 years ago

ESPN says Auburn has the greatest pregame tradition in the SEC

Nova takes flight (Photo: Auburn University)
Nova takes flight (Photo: Auburn University)
Nova takes flight (Photo: Auburn University)

Anyone who’s ever been to an Auburn home football game knows that pregame is special. And it seems that ESPN knows it too. A group of ESPN writers recently had a roundtable discussion to determine the best pregame tradition for each of the Power 5 conferences, and Auburn’s eagle flight was named the best for the SEC.

Here’s what ESPN writer Edward Aschoff said about Auburn’s eagle flight:

From Bear Bryant’s speech before every home game at Alabama to South Carolina’s dizzying playing of the theme song to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the SEC is full of fun before kickoff. Although a walk through The Grove or running through the Power T are great to watch, I’m going with Auburn’s War Eagle. It’s tough to pull off consistent tricks with live mascots, but Auburn’s golden eagles have a long and illustrious history of soaring around a raucous Jordan-Hare Stadium and landing at midfield before every Auburn home game, which always sends Tigers fans into a frenzy. The current eagle, Nova, is the eighth bird to inspire Auburn’s rabid home crowd.

Auburn started flying eagles around the stadium before home games in 2000 before it officially became part of the pregame festivities in 2001. The first eagle to make the flight, named Tiger, also flew at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tiger retired in 2006 and Auburn now has two eagles that share the tradition: a golden eagle named Nova (aka War Eagle VII) and a bald eagle named Spirit.

Many Auburn fans (and football fans in general) will probably remember when Spirit made headlines in 2011 after he flew into the window of one of the luxury boxes during his pregame flight. Spirit recovered and continues to share the tradition with Nova today.

The eagle flight is just one part of Auburn’s unforgettable pregame experience. Even the marching band gets a hype video. The pregame festivities are just one example of why SEC fans voted Jordan-Hare Stadium as the best in-stadium experience earlier this year.

In the other Power 5 conferences, Clemson won in the ACC for Howard Rock, Ohio State’s marching band dotting the “i” in the script Ohio was the clear choice in the Big Ten, Kansas State’s band playing “Wabash Cannonball” for the student section won the Big 12, and Ralphie’s Run at Colorado won for the PAC-12.

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3 years ago

Alabama is home to one of the best pizza restaurants in the U.S.

pizza

Americans love pizza. On any given day, the USDA says that 13% of the population is eating pizza. And in a single day, Americans eat an average of 100 acres of pizza, and every person in America eats an average of 23 pounds of pizza over the course of a year. So yeah, Americans love pizza. But with so many chains and independent pizza restaurants opening across the country, how do you know where the best pizza comes from?

Well Thrillist is here to help. The food and travel website has compiled a list of the best pizza restaurants in the country. Only 33 pizzerias were good enough to make the list, and one Alabama restaurant made the cut.

Post Office Pies, located in Birmingham, is one of Thrillist’s “Best Pizzerias in America” for 2016. The restaurant has been included on lists of the best pizza establishments for the previous two years. In 2014 it was named the best pizzeria in Alabama, and last year it was included on the national list for the first time.

Check out what Thrillist writer (and Alabama native) Liz Childers had to say about Post Office Pies:

I’m obnoxiously, sometimes irrationally, prideful about my home state, so it has made me so thrilled to give Post Office Pies a much-deserved spot on our list for the last three years. Its Avondale ‘hood is a microcosm flaunting Birmingham’s impressive evolution into a vibrant town that fosters local art and businesses, and this pizza spot represents all of that: hometown chef returns after stints at NYC’s Per Se and Gramercy Tavern to open something that can rival the best in the country, but whose industrial, casual interior and Molinari salami-topped pepperoni pie are just the right fit for a changing, re-emerging Southern city.

Post Office Pies is the only Alabama pizzeria to make the list, and one of only five southern pizza establishments. Hog & Hominy in Memphis, PIZZA dominica in New Orleans, Cane Rosso in Dallas, and Via 313 in Austin were also included on the list by Thrillist. The majority of the other restaurants on the list are located in cities famous for their pizza, like Chicago and New York. Alabama should be proud that Post Office Pies is good enough to stand up to such pizza giants.

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3 years ago

An Alabama softball player’s inspiring journey of disappointment, growth & triumph

Photo: Rolltide.com
Photo: Rolltide.com
Photo: Rolltide.com

In the fall of 2010, Jordan Patterson started college at the University of Alabama and joined the school’s softball team. During her four years in Tuscaloosa, the Tide went to the Women’s College World Series twice – and one once. But despite the team’s success, Jordan struggled with disappointments and setbacks. In a recent blog post, Jordan told her story of how those disappointments led to victories in unexpected ways.

Jordan came to Alabama as a catcher. She spent her first two years training and learning from the two older catchers on the team. She always came to practice early and stayed late. She wanted to be ready when her time came. During her sophomore year, Alabama won the Women’s College World Series. The next year she would finally get her shot.

Coming off of the National Championship, I was more determined than ever. We had two catchers coming back- myself and a sophomore, Chaunsey Bell. I knew that both of us would be given opportunities to prove ourselves early on, and I was going to give it everything that I had. I had played the role of supportive teammate for two years and really took pride in that. It’s so important. Every team needs role-players who take pride in their job on the bench. But now, I wanted to be on the field more than ever.

But that summer, she learned that a transfer student would be joining the team as another catcher. Jordan and her new teammate quickly became close friends, but the transfer student was an incredible catcher and player. Jordan knew that she would probably be sitting on the bench again for the next two years. Although she was disappointed, her focus began to change, and Jordan learned to find peace in her new role on the team.

When I began to accept that my job as an upperclassman was going to be leading from the bench, I was able to truly commit to it. I kept working hard, still came early and stayed late, but my motivations for doing so began to change. Instead of being motivated by the desire for personal success, I was motivated by the desire for team success. I needed to work my butt off so that I could demand that others do the same. I needed to keep getting better at blocking and framing so that the other catchers were pushed to get better. While I had always been a “team player” on the surface, I had finally morphed into a “team player” at heart.

There were times when she still felt angry, frustrated, and sad. But, as she learned, “That’s life. Sometimes, you are going to put every ounce of your being into something, and it’s not going to work out exactly the way you wanted it to. Get over it.

After she graduated, Jordan decided to go to law school. She knew that the job market would be tough to break into, but softball had taught her patience and perseverance. Through a family friend she was connected with a Hiring Partner in charge of hiring Summer Associates at a law firm in Washington, D.C. Before meeting her, the partner Googled Jordan and found a Tuscaloosa News article that documented her story of learning “resiliency,” “selflessness,” and “how to take pride in your work” while playing softball.

The Hiring Partner was impressed and set up interviews with five other partners in the firm for Jordan. She was soon offered a Summer Associate position and is now living in D.C., working alongside some of the best lawyers and clerks in the country. All because playing softball at Alabama taught her to keep fighting and be a true team player.

So, to any players out there struggling with being a role-player: keep working hard. Keep putting the team above yourself. Keep trusting your coaches. Believe me, I know that it hurts at times. But the Game sees you, and it will reward you. It won’t always be in the way that you wanted or pictured it, though. Sometimes the reward will come years later, in a way that will have a much greater impact on the course of your life than getting more playing time ever will.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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3 years ago

Auburn softball’s record-breaking season ends just short of the championship

The Auburn Tigers celebrate after their incredible Game 2 victory
The Auburn Tigers celebrate after their incredible Game 2 victory
The Auburn Tigers celebrate after their incredible Game 2 victory

The 2016 season for the Auburn softball team was one for the record books. Their first trip to the Women’s College World Series was full of amazing comebacks and one of the best catches in softball history. Unfortunately the Tigers fell just short of the championship, falling to the University of Oklahoma last night in the final game of the World Series.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Tigers ended their season with a new program record of 58 wins, an SEC Tournament championship, and the team’s first trip to the Women’s College World Series.

“I’m very proud of these young ladies that play softball at Auburn University,” said Auburn head coach Clint Myers. “They gave their heart, their soul. They gave their commitment, they battled, they were relentless. They lost to an outstanding Oklahoma team. Well-coached, great athletes.”

Auburn’s regular season featured a number of incredible plays and victories, and had huge wins against Mississippi State, Georgia, Florida, and Texas A&M. The Tigers ruled the SEC Tournament, including a 6-4 victory in the Iron Bowl of softball against Alabama.

After winning their second SEC Tournament in a row, Auburn went into the World Series ready for the challenge. After defeating UCLA 10-3 in their opening game, the Tigers faced off against SEC rival Georgia. The Bulldogs had just knocked off No. 1 seed Florida and took a 3-1 lead over Auburn going into the seventh inning. But the Tigers responded with two RBIs from Kasey Cooper and Emily Carosone and a go-ahead run by Jade Rhodes, putting Auburn ahead 4-3. After beating Georgia, the Tigers edged out Florida State in the semifinals.

Then came the wild championship series against Oklahoma. The Sooners won the first game 3-2, but Auburn was not going down without a fight. Game 2 of the series is already being called one of the greatest games in WCWS history. The Tigers came back from a 7-run deficit to tie the game in the fourth inning. Then Auburn senior Tiffany Howard robbed Oklahoma’s Shay Knighten of a home run with a spectacular catch over the left field wall.

At the bottom of the eighth, Auburn senior Emily Carosone blasted off a grand slam to give Auburn an 11-7 win. The Tigers’ Game 2 victory ended Oklahoma’s 31-game win streak and forced a championship-deciding Game 3.

Unfortunately, Game 3 did not go as well for Auburn. Oklahoma went up 2-0 in the first inning and Auburn was never able to get back on top. The Sooners walked away with their third national championship, but the Tigers returned to the Plains with a new sense of determination. Even though they lost the championship, the team can relish this year’s victories and fight to go all the way in 2017.

“I’m so proud of us for what we did,” Howard said. “And I guarantee you they’re going to be back next year to finish it off.”

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3 years ago

From The Plains to the penthouse: Cam now ranked among world’s highest-paid athletes

Cam Newton

Just a few months after coming up short in Super Bowl 50, former Auburn University standout Cam Newton has a new victory he can claim: he’s one of the ten highest-paid athletes in the world this year.

The 27-year-old Carolina Panthers quarterback ranked number 7 on the 2016 edition of the annual list released by Forbes. Newton’s earnings amount to $53.1 million, combined from $41.1 million in salary/winnings and $12 million from endorsements.

The NFL’s MVP led the Panthers to the Super Bowl and a 15-1 record this season, and accounted for a total of 45 touchdowns. His new contract with the Panthers is worth $103.8 million over five years, including a $22.5 million signing bonus, a $7.5 million option bonus, and a deferred $10 million option bonus payable in April of 2017. Under Armour also extended their deal with Newton and made him their top-paid NFL endorser. The company pays Newton a royalty for every pair of the UA Highlight cleats they sell.

In the past year the former Auburn quarterback has also expanded his brand off the football field. He established a clothing line with Belk that already includes over 300 products, and this summer he will star in a Nickelodeon series called “All In with Cam Newton.”

Earning the top spot on Forbes’ list is Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, who made $88 million in salary, winnings, and endorsements over the past 12 months. Ronaldo moved up from the number 3 spot on Forbes’ 2015 list.

Here are the ten highest-paid athletes of 2016:

1. Cristiano Ronaldo — $88 million
2. Lionel Messi — $81.4 million
3. LeBron James — $77.2 million
4. Roger Federer — $67.8 million
5. Kevin Durant — $56.2 million
6. Novak Djokovic — $55.8 million
7. Cam Newton — $53.1 million
8. Phil Mickelson — $52.9 million
9. Jordan Spieth — $52.8 million
10. Kobe Bryant — $50 million

The complete Forbes list includes the top 100 highest-paid athletes. Julio Jones, former University of Alabama star who currently plays for the Atlanta Falcons, made the list at number 43. Of the top 100, 65 are Americans and baseball players make up the largest group with 29 players making the list. Only two women are included on the list – Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, both tennis stars.

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3 years ago

How one Alabamian’s inspiring attempt to summit Mt. Everest changed him forever

Kent Stewart climbing Mount Everest in 2015
Kent Stewart climbing Mount Everest in 2015
Kent Stewart climbing Mount Everest in 2015

An Alabama native’s four-year long attempt to conquer the world’s highest mountain nearly killed him, but the journey ultimately saved his life and gave him a new perspective on the world.

For Kent Stewart, Everest has been his white whale. Stewart has climbed the highest mountain on six continents, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount McKinley in the U.S. To complete the “Seven Summit” challenge, all he needed to do was climb the world’s highest mountain, Everest.

Most of the year, Stewart is the CEO of Reli Title, a Birmingham-based company that operates throughout Alabama and parts of Tennessee and Florida. The 59-year-old University of Alabama alum started climbing in 2006 with his wife, who climbed five of the six summits with him.

Stewart’s first attempt to conquer Everest was in 2013. Despite climbing six other mountains and studying every book he could find on Everest, the mountain proved to be too much, both physically and mentally. He learned how to train himself for the climb. He started sleeping in a specialized tent that simulates the high altitudes of the mountain to acclimate his body. He trained three to five hours a day.

He was ready to try again in 2014, but in April an avalanche in the area killed 16 people and many of the Sherpas, or guides, went on strike. Stewart wouldn’t be climbing Everest that year.

In 2015, Stewart made it back to the mountain and had already begun climbing some smaller peaks to get acclimated. Then another earthquake struck Nepal and killed more than 8,000 people, including 22 at the Everest base camp. Stewart had to cancel his trip yet again, but in the aftermath of the earthquake, he and his wife set up the Seven Summits Foundation and raised $87,000 to rebuild parts of Nepal.

“I’ve kind of gotten myself in a bind by being successful with the other six,” Stewart said after his third attempt. “If I’d failed on those, it would have been a lot easier to let this go. It’s like trying to run a marathon and running 23 miles. It’s just something that I’ve come so far that I just want to complete it.”

Stewart hoped the fourth time would be the charm. He trained longer and harder in 2016 than he had for any of his three previous attempts. He landed on the mountain and started to acclimate himself and train, but something was different this time. Despite all his training, he ran out of energy quickly, and exercises that had been almost second nature before started to feel difficult.

Stewart and his guide, Brent Bishop, decided to hike up to a smaller peak to get him acclimated to higher altitudes and see if that would help. Before they left, Stewart decided to get checked out by the emergency medical tent just to be safe. That one decision probably saved his life.

Stewart was diagnosed with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), a condition that results in the lungs filling with fluid. HAPE can strike at random and is the number one killer of high altitude climbers. The only response was to immediately fly Stewart to a hospital in a lower altitude. At a hospital in Kathmandu, he was pumped with fluids and the doctors saw enough evidence to convince Stewart not to return to Everest. Instead, he needed to return home to receive further tests.

Kent Stewart will probably never attempt to summit Mount Everest again. After he returned to Birmingham, he wrote a complete account of his journey on his website. While he will always have that disappointment with him, he has taken pride in what he has accomplished and how far he learned to push himself.

I used to think that I could never be satisfied if I didn’t eventually stand on top of the world. I made the mistake of connecting my self-worth to the summits of these great peaks and was slow to realize that, in the end, it is the journey that really matters. While I am proud that I have been able to summit the highest mountain on six continents what I am most proud of is the fact that I have pushed myself to the absolute limit of my potential preparing for these Everest climbs.

In my heart, I know that I pushed myself to my absolute limit and while illnesses, avalanches and earthquakes converged to end my dream, I never quit. Maybe that’s the answer I was seeking all along.

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3 years ago

‘God help us all!’ Alabama’s largest Christian denomination continues to shrink

16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala. (Photo: sunsurfr on Flickr)
16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala. (Photo: sunsurfr on Flickr)

The largest Protestant Christian denomination in Alabama and the U.S. has seen declining numbers for the ninth year in a row, causing church leaders to voice their concerns.

“God help us all!” exclaimed Rev. Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News. May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ.”

The Southern Baptist Convention lost 200,000 members from 2014 to 2015. The denomination now has 15.3 million members. Baptist leaders also reported that average weekly worship attendance declined 1.72 percent to 5.6 million and baptisms have declined 3.3 percent.

“While a decrease in baptisms is very disappointing, we don’t take for granted 295,000 baptisms,” said LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer, former pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church in Hoover. “We should rejoice with each of those individuals who chose to follow Christ.”

Baptisms have declined eight out of the past ten years. While church membership has declined, the number of physical churches has increased. Almost 300 new churches were established from 2014 to 2015. The addition of new churches combined with declining membership makes the average congregation of a Southern Baptist church around 330 members.

The founding of new churches can be the silver lining in the otherwise worrisome statistics.

“People underestimate the importance of momentum,” Rainer said. “It only takes a few people in each church, being intentional about sharing their faith, for some new momentum to build.”

The Southern Baptist Convention grew quickly during the early 20th century, but its growth slowed during the 1950s and started declining after hitting peak membership (16.3 million) in 2003.

Southern Baptists remain the largest Protestant denomination in Alabama, with over 1 million members living in the state – roughly one out of every four Alabamians – and worshipping in one of over 3,300 active Baptist churches.

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