Unexpected tears of anger burned through the eyes of Kelvin Heard on Saturday.
He was in Publix on Green Springs Avenue in Homewood. Wine aisle.
The stepfather of Jamea Harris just wanted to buy a bottle to take the edge off. Even at the supermarket, though, Kelvin couldn’t escape trauma caused by the men’s basketball team representing the University of Alabama.
This is a tough story. It involves those infamous T-shirts that showed up in Nashville at the SEC Tournament. The family of Harris saw them. Heard talked to me about it over the phone on my way back from Nashville. The effect of this controversial Alabama basketball team turned ugly there, and it hurt the surviving family of Harris back home in Birmingham.
This team is a flashpoint. No way around it. Alabama won the tournament over the weekend, but the image of the university continued to lose respectability when two scumbags showed up to Bridgestone Arena wearing T-shirts celebrating the death of Harris. Harris was killed in a shooting on Jan.15 involving Alabama basketball players.
I still can’t believe this actually happened, but there were two cretins at Saturday’s game between Alabama and Missouri who wore University of Alabama T-shirts that had these gruesome words printed on the backs: “Killin’ our way through the SEC in ‘23.”
Gross. Deplorable. Unforgivable.
Who were those guys? Well, my colleague John Talty confronted them about the T-shirts, and the cowards wouldn’t identify themselves. One of them got angry. They said they were Alabama fans. I’m not saying they should be doxxed, but shaming these bad actors publicly could help prevent more problems in the future.
When Kelvin was in Publix trying to pick out a bottle of wine for his wife, there was an Alabama fan on the phone doing the same thing. The fan was laughing about the T-shirts with whomever was on the other end of the conversation.
“It’s like he knew the people who wore the T-shirts,” Heard said.
It took everything for Heard to keep his cool. What would you do in that situation if Harris was your step-daughter and you were now raising Harris’ son? Kelvin somehow walked away.
“I wanted to tell him that Jamea was shot in the face,” Heard said. “Her beautiful face. She would be alive if Alabama basketball players had made different decisions that night. And this guy was laughing about it.”
It makes me angry, of course, but it also shows the effects that this team is having on people. I can’t tell you how many nasty emails and tweets I’ve received over columns about Alabama basketball over the last few weeks, but the tough topics can’t be ignored. No one enjoys talking and writing about guns and basketball, but avoiding the issues feels a lot like complicity.
Harris is dead. A family is shattered to pieces. Lives will never be the same. What were the decisions and factors that led to the moment that Harris lost her life? I’m not talking about from a legal standpoint. There is a larger topic that must be addressed, too.
Gun culture among basketball and football players can’t be brushed aside no matter how awkward it makes news conferences after games. Schools in the SEC and beyond should study what’s taking place around the Alabama basketball team, and then make sure athletes never carry firearms while on scholarship. Don’t give me the misplaced, and misguided arguments about the Second Amendment either. This isn’t about the right to bear arms. Gun culture in America takes the lives of people every day. It’s an epidemic, and athletes on TV can use their platforms to help instead of harm.
Or, at the very least, just don’t go around to the bar on The Strip with loaded guns in the backseat.
Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies was recently suspended by the NBA for flashing a gun during an Instagram Live feed from a strip club. Basketball players of all ages are growing up wanting to emulate Morant for his game on the court, but his problems off the court are influential, too.
Two of the Alabama basketball players at the scene of Harris’ alleged murder are still on the team, and one of them, star player Brandon Miller, transported in his car the gun used to kill Harris, according to police. Basketball player Darius Miles was charged with capital murder for his alleged role. It was his gun, according to police, and the cops say that Miles passed it to friend Michael Davis, who then used the weapon to shoot into the automobile containing Harris.
She didn’t have to die, and Harris’ cousin in the backseat is a current student at Alabama. How do you think she feels? According to Kelvin Heard, university representatives still haven’t reached out to the family.
No matter how people want to rationalize the decisions of Alabama after the death of Harris, the cold reality is that the basketball team now represents a significant source of pain for this family. It’s following them everywhere, and they can’t avoid it. Now Alabama is in Birmingham for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s like, what’s next?” Heard said. “It’s terrible. We live 10 minutes from the arena. I work two blocks from there.”
Birmingham is celebrating these games, and it should, but don’t forget that Birmingham was Harris’ hometown.
Joseph Goodman is the lead sports columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A season of hope and the making of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team’”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.