James Jones: 2 sports legends I once covered facing adversity

Published 10:10 am Friday, July 5, 2024

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Everybody in Dallas County knows I worked 26 years on the Mississippi Guf Coast before coming to town. Every now and then, I share memories of my experiences working in the area as an award-winning journalist.  

Two former sports athletes I covered made the news in the Gulf South region: boxer Roy Jones Jr. and quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Each made the news cycle in different ways.

Jones, a Pensacola, Florida, native, is mourning the loss of his son, DeAndre Jones, who took his own life on June 22. The circumstances surrounding the suicide are unknown, but I feel that a person should always find somebody to talk with whenever situations are bad. My heart goes out to Jones and his family.

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I had the pleasure of covering Jones’ Hall of Fame career in Biloxi, which included world titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. All of his kids attended his press conference. We had a great relationship and Jones told boxing promoters we were friends. I was touched when I heard that. 

Russell is in a different situation. The Mobile native is facing a lawsuit over a $74,000 check written as a donation for the football program at his alma mater, Williamson High School. According to Mobile court documents, JaMarcus Russell deposited and cashed a $74,000 check at Navigator Credit Union in July 2022.

I am not going to say whether Russell is guilty or innocent, just going by the news reports. I really did not know Russell as a person. I just covered Russell when he played at LSU. He eventually became the biggest NFL bust in history as a top overall pick. 

I knew Russell’s uncle, the late Ray-Ray Russell. Ray-Ray was a popular radio personality in Mobile. He occasionally mentioned Selma and guided his nephew on the right path. To me, when Ray-Ray died, Russell was not the same. He made $36 million in the NFL.

While I may no longer live in the Gulf South, my passion still burns for the place that helped develop me into a stellar journalist.