The Best Class I Didn't Actually Take: Learning from a Gator Great
For my career management class last semester (GEB3035), I had to read Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech for Stanford University. In his speech, Jobs told his story about dropping out of Reed College. He said it was expensive, and he didn’t want to take classes that he had no interest in, so he quit the pursuit of a degree and started to drop in on classes he found interesting. One of these classes was a calligraphy course, and the knowledge he gained from dropping in consistently was the reason why the original Mac had multiple typefaces and fonts (a gamechanger at the time).
Now, I am no Steve Jobs, I have no interest in calligraphy, and I probably won’t design a computer in my lifetime, but I recieved the message loud and clear. Go to a cool class for free if you can.
After reading the speech, I was not necessarily in search mode for an extra class. After all I was already at 16 credits for the semester so three more just for fun was not ideal for me. But, I had a conversation with a classmate that set me on a great path.
I had two classes with a German exchange student named Jule (pronunciation: "you-leh"), who hails from Cologne, Deutschland. After class one day, she told me about another class she signed up for: JOU4930 - Sports PXP/On Air Talent. When she initially signed up for the class, she did not know what the PXP part meant, but she thought it would be cool anyway. She did not realize she was signing up for a play-by-play class taught in her secondary language.
I thought this was pretty funny (I still do), and I had many questions; I knew that class was taught by former Gator Linebacker James Bates, and I've been eyeing it for a semester or two. To my surprise, Jule said that if I reached out to Bates on Instagram (that's what their class groupchat was on), there was a good chance he would be okay with letting me sit in on the class.
That is exactly what I did.
Going into the class I did not really know what to expect. I was only slightly familiar with James Bates at the time; I knew he was a linebacker on the 1996 Gator National Championship Team, and I was a fan of his work as an artist from following him on social media.
I went in optimistic. Class was held in Weimer Hall (shoutout J School) every Monday morning. I got to the classroom early and met James Bates for the first time. Just like his Instagram message, he was warm and welcoming and happy to have me there. I assumed that since I was only sitting in on the class I would exist as more of a fly on the wall in the classroom, but I was very mistaken. During class, Bates said that everybody who comes to visit has to tell a story.
Luckily I had one in the chamber ready to go. I told the class of about a dozen or so the tale of my first Gator football tryout. My idiocy of forgetting to buy cleats for a D1 football tryout usually gets a laugh, so it was a good ice breaker. After sharing my story, the sense of welcoming I felt from Bates was radiated by the rest of the class. Everyone was super nice, and someone even said that she had read my article about the story which was flattering.
Towards the end of the class, he told us a story about his time as a ball boy at Cleveland Browns preseason camp in the summer of 1992. He and another ball boy said something along the lines of, “we’ve never seen a fire extinguisher go off before!” so in the ballboy dorm you can guess what they did. The next day, Bates got a big time chew out from Bill Belichick, who said, “I’m trying to run an NFL f*ckin’ ball camp and I got f*ckin’ ball boys setting off fire extinguishers in the f*ckin’ dorm! So f*ckin' stop it!” That story was the cherry on top of the morning. I knew I wanted to come back.
So, I kept going back every Monday.
One of those Mondays, Bates took us to probably the coolest classroom you could have.
We sat in section A in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, right next to the south endzone. We were waiting on Bates’s friend Molly, who teaches yoga classes in Gainesville. We had a class chat while waiting, and as I had come to expect and appreciate, the topics of conversation varied greatly. At one point Bates told us about the Duke-Miami game he had broadcasted over the weekend (he works as a ACC football analyst for Bally Sports). At another point, he offered a $20 venmo to the first person that could name the movie quote: “First he’s gonna sh*t, then he’s gonna kill us!” It was Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but nobody got the $20.
These kinds of pop quizzes are pretty common every class (minus the Venmo) because of Bates' self-described "pop-culture Tourettes." You've got to bring your trivia A-game every week.
Most of the time, you don’t know what to expect going into class on a given day. The class is less structured than most. But, you can be 100% sure that when you walk out for the day you’ll leave with something meaningful. To prove it, while we were waiting for Molly in section A, Bates gave us a quote that stuck to my brain like gorilla glue.
“If you can control your breath, nobody can take your peace.”
This was the main reason why we were there in the Swamp. JOU4930 is essentially a public speaking class, but it is geared more towards the sports and the television industry. When you're live on air, you cannot freeze or freak out. Calmness is essential, and that's what we were there to practice.
Eventually Molly arrived, and the class hopped the wall (with UAA permission of course) onto the sacred Bermuda grass. For that morning, our classroom had a seating capacity of 90,000.
This was my second time setting foot on Florida Field (I was able to go on it before the spring game for the student hype tunnel). Running stadiums on Tuesdays and Thursdays last year, I was tempted many times to hop the wall and test my 40 time. However, the thought of prosecution, or worse, getting banned from The Swamp, kept my feet firmly on the concrete steps. Besides, I figured it would be cooler if I saved my field time for special moments.
I considered class that day a special moment. October was whooping me in terms of classwork load and stress, so I thought there would be no better remedy than some breathing and relaxation in one of my favorite places on Earth.
We laid out in a circle on Albert at midfield. When I sat down, I immediately realized that the sprinklers had been on earlier that morning, but I figured a wet ass was worth it as price of admission.
I left The Swamp that day in a great mood, proud that I had taken Steve Jobs' advice.
For the rest of the semester, I kept going back to room 1090 in Weimer Hall every Monday morning, and it was always one of the best parts of my week. Whether it was a funny story, a fascinating guest speaker, or an uncomfortable bout with public speaking in front of the class, you were bound to walk out improved or enlightened in some way.
I was always a fan of a good James Bates story. Believe me when I say he has an endless supply.
One class in November, the topic of plane crashes came up somehow, and I was strangely unsurprised when he had an interesting anecdote locked and loaded.
In 1992, the year Bates redshirted, the #4 Gators got crushed by #14 Tennessee in Neyland 31-14. He made it clear that he did not play in that game and that he in fact never lost to Tennessee. He hates Tennessee. He grew up there in Sevier County (he always mentions the fact that he went to the same high school as Dolly Parton), and comes from a Vol family, so the rivalry means more to him.
On the trip back to Gainesville after the loss, the plane cabin lost air pressure and the team had to put oxygen masks on. The plane had to dive so it could regain some air, and they made an emergency landing in Savannah, Georgia. The whole team was pretty spooked, and he said that the players were throwing around potential news headlines had the plane gone down. “Gators Killed Twice in One Day” was the front runner he told us.
In case you needed evidence of Bates' disdain for Rocky Top
Towards the end of the semester, I had a mission. I wanted to see the B8sy Paint Studio. Even before my academic freeloading, I was a fan of his creative work, and I was hoping to see where the sausage was made. I've also seen a lot of his studio on his instagram (@jb8sy), where he regularly posts stories of him painting with old-fashioned country or classic hip-hop blasting in the background. I thought that was a vibe and a half.
To my delight, he was kind enough to let me visit. The studio is at his home in the west side of Gainesville, right above his garage. I was not disappointed whatsoever. Almost every inch of the place is covered in fun artwork or fascinating memorabilia, even including his father's game ball from his first win as an NFL head coach for the Miami Dolphins (he was the interim HC there before they hired Nick Saban).
I even got to lend a helping hand while I was there. I sat at a paint-covered table with Wu Tang Clan blasting while I worked, and Hank, Bates' very nice Catahoula, slept on the couch behind me. It felt like I was getting the full B8sy Paint experience.
Fast forward to this semester, and I am happy to inform that I am enrolled in JOU4930 (for real this time). Bates has taught me a lot over the past few months, and I am excited to keep learning. Who knows, maybe one day I will be in the booth, maybe I won't? Either way, I will have some awesome stories to tell.