BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Alabama football coach Nick Saban spends much of his spare time in tornado-ravaged parts of Tuscaloosa. Former NBA star Charles Barkley had never seen anything like the destruction in the Birmingham suburbs of Pleasant Grove and Pratt City.
“It was far and away the worst thing I’ve seen in my life,” said Barkley, a native of nearby Leeds who played college basketball at Auburn.
They spoke Wednesday of the deadly tornado that struck a week earlier after a pro-am for the Champions Tour’s Regions Tradition. The PGA Tour has pledged $100,000 to help in rebuilding the area, and an auction Tuesday night raised nearly $50,000.
Saban said he has spent “quite a bit” of time in the hard-hit areas and that his wife, Terry, is out there daily.
“When I’m not doing anything else, that’s where I’ve spent most of the time,” the Crimson Tide coach said. “You can see the devastation on TV, but the real personal feeling is really what people need a lot of help with.”
He said injured football player Carson Tinker is out of the hospital, but is also dealing with the death of his girlfriend, Ashley Anderson.
“He’s going to take a little while to get healed up,” Saban said. “He’s also got some psychological trauma with what he lost personally, with his girlfriend.”
Saban said helping out after the storm took an emotional toll on other players.
“Some of the guys that went out right after it happened and tried to help people and pull people out of homes, I think they were shaken up with what they saw,” Saban said. “Until you actually live through something like this, you don’t really have a good feeling for the personal devastation and how it affects people.”
On the Champions Tour, Tom Lehman said he filled a couple of boxes with clothes to donate to tornado victims. Jerry Pate, who played collegiate golf at Alabama, owns a Toro dealership and donated 100 chainsaws to both Tuscaloosa and Pratt City for the cleanup efforts.
John Cook drove around taking in some of the damage Tuesday after his morning round.
“To play a golf event, you kind of feel a little bit insignificant for what’s been going on, and we certainly feel for the area,” he said. “Hopefully we can bring some sort of entertainment to the people that are pretty down and out right now.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said “our hearts go out to the people who were affected with loss of life, loss of property, here in Alabama.”