By Suzanna Mars
Former All-SEC Florida Gator linebacker James Bates doesn’t rest on his athletic laurels. Rather than fading into quiet obscurity in the two decades since he co-captained the 1996 National Championship football team, “Batesy” has turned into a prolific abstract landscape artist and folk-art sculptor/painter whose wooden sculptures and paintings spoof some of sports’ finest athletes and their unguarded moments. Many of these, like Alabama coach Nick Saban’s “And ya don’t stop,” have turned into amusing memes.
He carved out another career path as a color analyst for Fox Sports South and also as a teacher of a sports-commentating class at the University of Florida. Along the way, he picked up three regional Emmy Awards and produced a series of documentaries for CBS Sports Network and Sun Sports.
Then there are outdoor art shows where, instead of pitching a pop-up tent, he sells from the “Jort” bus, a bright-orange vehicle with a portmanteau name that refers to male Gator fans’ predilection for wearing jean shorts to football games. He has an indoor show at Cypress & Grove Brewing Company this September. When he greets us at his home, he bustles with energy and hands us a dog treat for his dog, Hank, before he shares his favorite things with Gmag readers.
MY FAMILY: “I can’t do a list of things I like and not put the Bates family at the top. They’re all pretty cool, so I’d have to say that they are my faves. Tina and I have been married for 21 years (June 28). Twenty-one! Jake, 20, is now a sophomore at the University of North Florida. He has his fishing captain’s license, and he spent the summer as a fishing guide at Alaska’s most remote fishing lodge. Talia, 17, is now a senior at Buchholz High School. She could have gone anywhere in the nation as a scholarship swimmer. She chose the University of Florida. (She committed last spring.) Georgia, 15, is a sophomore at Buchholz, and she’s a state champion/state record-holder swimmer. She’s also my only baby who watches ’80s movies with me.”
MY 1973 FORD F100: ”When my son, Jake, turned 16 a few years ago, I gave him my old truck and I finally had a chance to get an old truck. I love all of those old trucks. I was born in 1973, so I set out to get one from that year. It wasn’t easy. I found a few that I liked, but none in this area. I finally broadened my search filter and gave up on just 1973. This truck popped up on the Ocala Craigslist. It had 49,000 miles on it. I love it. Hank, my dog, loves it.”
ARTIST HOWARD FINSTER: “ ‘Hank Williams’ (wooden sculpture) by Howard Finster is my favorite piece of art that I own. The late Rev. Howard Finster is my favorite artist. He painted people who brought happiness to Earth. He saw them as angels. He always includes scripture in his pieces. I feel like I know the Bible better because of his art, and that was his plan.”
TEACHING: “I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, but it was usually sports-related. This fall will be my fourth semester of teaching a Play by Play/On Air Talent class at UF, and it is more fun and more rewarding than I ever dreamed teaching a class could be. I’ve had such cool students. I’m teaching a class at the University of Florida! That makes me the proudest Gator in the world.”
MY ORANGE SUIT: “We bought our current house from the children of former UF football coach Don Brown. The house was empty when we moved in, except for the master-bedroom closet. This orange suit was hanging in there. It was his sideline coaching attire. I tried it on, and it fit better than any suit that I’ve ever owned. I wear it every single chance that I get!”
PLAYER PIANO: “People think that I have a lot of energy, but I’ve got nothing on my wife’s late Grandma Irma Roney (of Shelbyville, Illinois). She had more fun and happy energy than anybody that I’ve ever been around. (She was) a 4 foot, 5 inch ball of joy. This was her player piano; she loved it. We have had it since she passed. It has such a fun sound to you (because) it takes you back in time. Grandma Irma would be so proud to know how much we enjoy it. I’ve purchased about 40 more piano rolls since we got it. My fave is probably ‘Pearly Shells.’ ”
MY DOG, HANK: “We really didn’t need a dog. We definitely weren’t looking, but Tina and I were jogging through the Haile Village one day and a volunteer from Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue was walking him. He looked so goofy (that) we had to meet him. He’s a Catahoula/Great Dane mix. Where in the world would we be without Hank? Ha ha!”
‘JORT’ BUS: “Blair Janes is a friend and a local businessman. He likes my art and he loves the Gators. About a year ago, he told me that he had just purchased a short bus and wanted to hire me to turn it into a Gator tailgate machine. Since all of the Gator Haters out there like to say that Gator fans wear jorts, I just decided to own it. The inside upholstery is all recycled denim, and the whole thing is all kinds of awesome. I never get to enjoy it on game-day Saturdays because of my own broadcasting schedule, but Blair and co-owner ‘Gator’ Tony Hernandez have a lot of fun with it.”
THE BOZ: “I went to junior high in Arlington, Texas, (at a time when) a couple of hours up the road, Brian Bosworth was doing his thing as a linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners. I wanted to be like that dude so bad. My dad was a football coach. He wanted me to be a quarterback. I wasn’t having it. The Boz was my idol. He was my motivation. He’s why I always wore 44.”
SWIMMERS: “Upon entering the University of Florida, I didn’t know much about swimming. I’m not even sure that I knew how to swim. All of that changed in a hurry, though. My wife, Tina, was a Gator swimmer. We met during our first week on campus and dated throughout our time at UF. I became friends with a lot of her teammates and (I) realized right away that they were the hardest-working student athletes on campus, and it wasn’t even close. I’ve always had so much respect for the work that they put in. Our daughters are swimmers. Tina is their swim coach at Buchholz. They have won a bunch of state titles and have broken state records. Tina was the 2016 National High School Girls’ Swimming Coach of the Year. It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”
MY STUDIO: “Where it all goes down!”