HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - The following is a commentary blog from WBRC FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:
She's been tirelessly working for over six years to keep her son's good name alive. His kindness, his drive. She's held summits, golf outings, and now heads a character education program called "Tackling Character," a program she hopes is soon adopted by Birmingham-area schools. On Tuesday, Linda Bell's first two words to me when I told her that the #36 jersey worn by her son Nick at Miss State may go to Jeffrey Simmons? "Oh, no!"
Rated America's #19 prospect in the recruiting class of 2016, Jeffrey Simmons chose the Bulldogs over Ole Miss and Alabama. But last March, Simmons was caught on camera assaulting a woman. MSU coach Dan Mullen spent the majority of his time Tuesday at SEC Media Days explaining why Simmons has been allowed to join the team and will receive a mere one-game suspension (the same suspension a player gets after a targeting penalty).
As the Miss State coach met the media, he reminded all in attendance that Bulldog players take turns wearing the #36 as a sign of leadership in memory of Nick Bell. Said Mullen of the jersey assignment, "That's not finalized yet. I think they posted the numbers with some discussions we're going to have. That's something we're going to continue to look at. It was an idea that was brought up of -- one of the things -- I think with retire numbers sometimes, especially ones that have meaningful things to programs.I learned this as a young coach at Syracuse University where it's a very special honor to wear the number 44. And, you know, I think it -- the best way you can honor numbers is by having people wear them, but understand and respect what it takes to wear that number and what you're representing in wearing that number."
Nick Bell was everything to his mother, as his cancer battle reminded Linda of his resilience, his goodness, and before the fight it seemed everywhere the family went the number 36 was in full view. Now, the most controversial subject at SEC Media Days has hit home for the mother of the young man who lost his cancer battle in November of 2010.
"I can't tell Coach Mullen or Miss State who wears what jersey. I'm not as much concerned with Mr. Simmons wearing the number 36 as I am that ANY Bulldog player would be wearing Nick's number," said Linda.
How much does the number 36 mean to her?
"Every time I see a "3" and a "6" I think of Nick. Whether it's on a clock, a store, or a gas pump. That brings me to our foundation's efforts to bring character to young children. The number 36 means so much to so many. Our mission through our Tackling Character program is to make the world a better place as we look to deliver spirit and soul to children," Linda Bell.
How might a mother whose son had it together deal with watching a young man who is trying to get it together sport a number 36 jersey this fall?
"Maybe the young man [Simmons] can learn from wearing my son's jersey number. Nick was a young man who stood for what was right, and perhaps this young man can look to Nick for inspiration," Linda said. "I know in my heart what the number 36 means to me as well as others. I know that Nick was kind and generous, and I hope that if this young man winds up wearing my son's jersey number it can help him get back on the right path. I wish him the best."
Other than doing a few interviews with Dan Mullen, I don't know him. But he and Director Of Athletics Scott Strickland seem like reasonable people (although in light of the Simmons enrollment and jersey assignment some may wonder). It's time for both to "man up." I urge Mullen and Strickland to follow the advice my father gave me years ago: Do the right thing.