By BILLY REED | Contributor
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – When I got home Wednesday night, I started going through by e-mail, messages, and my Facebook page as I usually do. But this time something alarming grabbed my attention.
I saw a newspaper story saying that my friends Mike Pratt and Rex Chapman, former University of Kentucky basketball stars, had requested that their Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame plaques in Freedom Hall be taken down if the Kentucky State Fair Board persisted in hosting events that sold Nazi and other hate paraphernalia.
At first, I thought something was wrong. When I was executive director of communications for the Commerce Cabinet, the State Fair Board was one of our agencies, and I guarantee we would never have allowed hate paraphernalia to be sold at the Fairgrounds, the state parks, or any other of our properties.
But then I read the Joe Gerth column in the Courier-Journal that apparently generated the responses by Rex and Mike. Last weekend, indeed, there had been some kind of event in Freedom Hall where Nazi paraphernalia –- even Nazi Christmas ornaments, if you can believe that –- were sold.
Well, my plaque also hangs in Freedom Hall. I was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame on Monday, Sept. 10, 2001. The next morning, the world fell apart when terrorist hijackers guided two commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York.
By this post, I join with Rex and Mike. If the Fair Board doesn’t change its policy immediately, I, too, request that my plaque be removed from Freedom Hall.
The show at Freedom Hall was held just days after 11 Jewish worshippers were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a racist who repeatedly told police that all he wanted to do was “kill all the Jews I can.”
That sickened me beyond words at the time, and when I heard about the situation at Freedom Hall, I had to think about all my Jewish friends and mentors who helped me have a career that merited membership in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.
I’m talking about editors and fellow writers at the Lexington Herald-Leader, Sports Illustrated, and the Courier-Journal. I’m talking about personal friends who believed in me and trusted me. One of the special ones was Jeremiah Tax, my guardian angel and mentor at Sports Illustrated. He was like a father to me, and I miss him to this day.
I’ve always been proud to have my Kentucky Hall of Fame plaque in Freedom Hall, the iconic arena where I’ve covered so many great basketball games at all levels. In fact, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, but every time I go to Freedom Hall, I sneak by to take a look at it. I guess I’m checking to make sure it’s still there, because I’ve never really believed that I deserved it.
But there are things more important than plaques and sports, and one of them is the crusade to stamp out racism, prejudice, and groups that promote those things.
By now I hope the Fair Board has changed its policy or expanded it to ban the sale and distribution any merchandise that promotes Nazism, fascism, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacy, violence, and abuse. Frankly, I also would tighten its policies on the gun shows, where a lot of unregistered weapons change hands.
But if the Fair Board sticks to its guns, so to speak, I request that my plaque be collected at the same time they collect those honoring Pratt and Chapman.
In a way, I guess this is our Colin Kaepernick moment. We all must draw the line somewhere and say, “Enough.” I’m sure I can speak for Rex and Mike in saying that we remain deeply honored by our selections to the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.
We just don’t want our plaques to hang in any place that sells hate paraphernalia.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter from Louisville who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.