Potshot Thrown at John Calipari over Fordyce Apology Misses the Point

John Calipari
Photo credit Craven Whitlow

Let’s get this out of the way right now: what happened in Fordyce, Ark. late Friday morning is an undeniable tragedy for all involved. Whatever we on the outside can say or do isn’t going to bring back Callie Weems for her 10-month-old daughter, Ivy. Nothing’s going to bring back Shirley Taylor for her grieving daughter Angela Atchley, nor will it make things better for the families of Roy Sturgis and Ellen Shrum as the town tries to pick up the pieces from a grocery store shooting that left those four dead and 10 wounded.

Let’s get something else out of the way, too: John Calipari didn’t have to say a peep about any of this. Nobody forced him to post a message of condolence on Saturday night as one of the few leaders in Razorback Nation to publicly acknowledge the pain reverberating through parts of his new home state:

That he chose to say anything at all matters. 

Part of that is because it was the right thing to do. He also opened himself up to criticism when he didn’t need to. Often when Arkansas’ basketball coach chimes in on something important these days, it seems, he gets some flak from a few haters – usually from Kentucky. This time was no different, with “X” user BBN Voice taking this pot shot: “Good job, Coach Cal!! You are learning how to fit in with the MAGAs. Just say ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Definitely do NOT say anything about gun control.”

Sometimes, though, thoughts and prayers are all that you have at the moment. When Calipari writes “I wish there was something I could say or do to bring healing,” I get it. In some ways, the pain that remains in the wake of a tragedy can never be erased. Life becomes about living without.

Life, too, can be about going an extra mile when the opportunity is given. 

This is one such time. Now that Calipari has helped shed light on a south Arkansas calamity that had been off the radar of many northwest Arkansans, he has the chance to go at least one step farther and help even more.

A Fundraiser for a Fordyce Hero

One potential direction is the GoFundMe account set up for the funeral expenses of the nurse, Callie Weems, and to the future of her baby, Ivy. 

According to Col. Mike Hagar with the Arkansas State Police, Weems was killed while trying to save the lives of others.

She had been aiding victims “and then became a victim herself,” Hagar said Sunday, adding that it was “one of the most selfless acts I’ve ever seen.”

This seems like a clear-cut case of a just cause, but I’m not going to blame John Calipari if chooses not to donate. He’s in Arkansas to win basketball games, after all. If he donates this time, he may feel compelled to explain why he doesn’t donate to future causes.  He shouldn’t be expected to cough up some of his hopefully well-deserved salary every time someone experiences a tragedy in Arkansas during his tenure.

I would, however, urge Calipari and others with significant social media platforms to at least consider drawing attention to some fundraiser or just cause coming out of the Fordyce shooting. He’s already shown he cares enough to Tweet once about it, so asking for another post is reasonable. Even a simple Tweet directing his 1.5 million followers to the GoFundMe for Callie Weems would likely take care of a large part of the $50,000 goal.

The main point is that those who are blessed with platforms sometimes forget how much good they can do with them. I know I’m certainly guilty of this. So, in the spirit of Matthew 7:3-5, I’ve donated $50 to Weems’ fundraiser. 

I invite anybody reading this to give what they can by clicking here:

There’s nothing partisan about helping folks who need it. 

Nor should there be anything partisan about looking at the bigger picture around mass shootings, which are defined by the Gun Violence Archive as involving a minimum of four victims, either wounded or killed, and excluding the shooter or shooter.

Bigger Picture around Gun Laws

The Fordyce shooting was the sixth mass shooting in Arkansas so far this year. It came less than two days after a shooting in Oakland left 15 injured. The nation has seen at least 234 mass shootings in 2024. 

That’s unacceptable, regardless of whether you’re a Razorback fan, Alabama fan, Democrat or Republican.

Among 50 states, Arkansas ranks dead last in terms of a metric that scores every state on the strength of its gun laws and compares it with its rate of gun violence.

That, too, should be unacceptable. 

It’s possible nothing could have prevented this particular case in Fordyce, given that the self-employed shooter had a “very limited” criminal history and perhaps none at all

Still, regardless of details in this specific instance, the cold data and soul-searing tragedies like Fordyce make it clear as day that gun violence is a major problem in the U.S. Regardless of which ways best address this while respecting 2nd Amendment rights, more needs to be done.

That can start with leaders from all levels of society talking more about expanding access to mental health resources and being open-minded to what the data shows from other states and nations when it comes to gun laws and safety. Unfortunately, simply wanting to have a discussion can in and of itself be enough to set some folks off in today’s polarized climate, but some things are worth the flak anyway. 

Two of the best basketball coaches in the world know this.

John Calipari’s Real Secret to Success

John Calipari has won a lot of ball games these last few decades, but the real secret of his success lies in his success in building relationships and coming across as sincere in his motives and what he stands for. In the early 2000s, he often publicly put the player and their families first, even if that meant his school (Memphis or Kentucky) losing the star after only one college season to the pros. 

Calipari wholeheartedly embraced the “one-and-done” rule and the professional aspirations of his recruits, at a time when bucking the amateur model was much less popular than it is now. His no-B.S. approach ultimately made him the most successful recruiter the game has ever seen.

Similarly, Steve Kerr has become one of the NBA’s greatest coaches because he’s been able to build deep relationships with his players alongside the multiple world championships his Golden State Warriors have won.

Kerr, too, often talks from the heart. Love him or hate him, you have to respect his willingness to speak his mind.

Kerr works not far from where last Wednesday’s mass shooting in Oakland erupted. And back in 2022, in the wake of the mass shooting at Uvalde, Texas, the son of a slain professor wasn’t shy about weighing in: “We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and go, ‘Well, let’s go have a moment of silence.’” 

In another part, Kerr added: “I am so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I am so tired of the excuse, ‘I am sorry;’  I am tired of the moments of silence.”

Bravo to John Calipari for breaking the silence from Razorback Nation on the Fordyce shooting. More is needed. As much as a simple Tweet to his 1.5 million followers could move the needle, it’s not his full responsibility to go the extra mile in minimizing the number of future Fordyces that will inevitably, agonizingly happen. 

Ultimately, it’s yours and mine. 

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