How and Why Alabama State and Alabama A&M Blew the New Magic City Classic Deal
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on October 6, 2023
An Editorial Opinion
Most Alabamians have never heard of Walter F. Johnsey (1924-2007). Johnsey was a longtime political operator for Alabama Power Company and the Drummond Company. By the time Johnsey was 50 years old, he was Alabama Power's senior vice president and chief financial officer. Johnsey reported directly to Joseph Farley, Alabama Power’s chief executive officer.
During this time, Johnsey also served as a consultant to and director of the Drummond Company, the chief supplier of coal for Alabama Power's coal-fired power plants. The two companies had an incestuous relationship for many decades.
Walter Johnsey perfected the art of capturing and controlling elected and appointed officials in Alabama with campaign cash, perks, and "feel good" trinkets. Johnsey's personal financial contributions, coupled with corporate donations he directed, bought him considerable political influence within the state's political community.
Johnsey also had a superb ability to capture and control the voices and votes of black public officials on matters of concern to Alabama Power, Drummond, and their growing network of strategic alliance partners.
In one of his candid private talks with me before he died, Walter Johnsey explained his method for controlling black public officials in Alabama. According to Johnsey, black elected and appointed officials loved to be “wined and dined” in fancy restaurants. This hospitality gesture made them feel important and validated. If Johnson gave them a ride on Alabama Power’s or Drummond’s private jets, this experience would send the politically seduced public official into a state of euphoria.
Johnsey also made modest cash donations to the political campaigns of black elected officials and hooked up their family members, girlfriends, and mistresses with jobs and/or small consulting/vendor contracts.
In return, black elected and appointed officials in Alabama gave Walter Johnsey their undying loyalty and devotion. Whenever Johnsey needed these officials to sellout the black community, they did so with pride and joy.
According to Walter Johnsey, the white politicians he seduced did not want to be “wined and dined” or flown on private jets. They only wanted cash, and it had to be BIG cash.
Alabama's law enforcement and judicial officials were always in Walter Johnsey’s back pocket. His ability to “fix” a state or federal civil or criminal cases was just a phone call away.
While I found Walter Johnsey to be an interesting and personable character, I never fell under his seductive spell.
Johnsey’s Method of “Capturing and Controlling" Black Public Officials Lives On
After Walter Johnsey’s death in 2007, the methodology he perfected for capturing and controlling black elected and appointed officials in Alabama has lived on through a succession of similarly situated political operatives in the state. Two of these operatives oversee and direct the political agendas of most black political and appointed officials in the Birmingham-Jefferson County area, at Alabama State University, and at Alabama A&M University on matters of interest to Alabama’s corporate community.
Protecting the financial interests of a member of their business alliance network is a matter of interest to the state's corporate community, especially when the member's wealth is derived from contracts awarded to this member by government entities that are run by black officials.
This is why the Drummond Company and five other industrial polluters were able to poison the air, ground, and water in three black neighborhoods in North Birmingham for decades, without fearing or facing any costly adverse consequences from local black politicians or law enforcement officials.
This is also why I was not surprised by the embarrassing, one-sided business deal that Alabama State and Alabama A&M made with the Alabama Sports Council and Eventive Sports to produce and promote the Magic City Classic from 2023 through 2026.
Gene Hallman, the CEO of the Bruno Event Team/Eventive Sports, is a longtime member of the established business alliance network in Alabama. He regularly participates in their program to capture and control black public officials in the state.
As was the case with the previous Magic City Classic production and promotion agreement, the new deal has far more cash and tangible economic value for Gene Hallman and Eventive Sports than it does for Alabama State and Alabama A&M. It is a four-year contract with two state institutions that is enhanced by financial subsidies from the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County.
The two participating universities have never known the total cash and economic value of the deal to the Bruno Event Team or Eventive Sports because they have repeatedly failed to ask the right questions during the contract negotiations. As a result, both universities have enriched Gene Hallman’s sports promotion company, while getting “pocket change” or "tip" money in return.
Hallman is a seasoned businessman who knows how to metaphorically “skin a cat" in numerous ways. For example, Hallman's Bruno Event Team was able to pocket $760,117 in management fees from the Alabama Sports Council in 2020, even though the Council reported revenues of only $512,038 that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 29, 2020, the Bruno Event Team was able to grab another $886,400 in the form of a “First Round” federal Paycheck Protection Program loan. On August 3, 2021, Hallman was able to convince the government to forgive the loan, together with $11,025 in accrued interest.
Gene Hallman snagged an additional satchel of taxpayer's money in 2021 by partnering with the Alabama Department of Public Health to distribute the controversial COVID vaccines at Alabama State and Alabama A&M football games (as well as 11 other universities in the state). According to published reports, neither university shared in this Bruno Event Team cache of money that was made on game-day at their campuses.
Following the same PR template that the industrial polluters used to pacify the poisoned black residents in North Birmingham, Hallman is protecting his financial gains under the new Magic City Classic agreement by unleashing a group of minions in the state's black community who have been given talking points to parrot on social media sites and black talk radio. These talking points highlight the amount of money ASU and AA&MU will be paid over the next four years. They totally avoid any mention of the financial jackpot Eventive Sports won from the deal.
Once again, Alabama State and Alabama A&M surrendered their economic clout as "owners" of the Magic City Classic. In doing so, these two universities financially empowered Gene Hallman, Eventive Sports, and their network of MAGA friends, including U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) and others of Tuberville's political ilk. As a result, millions of dollars in cash and tangible economic value that should be going to ASU and AA&MU over the next four years will now go to Gene Hallman and Eventive Sports.
The new Magic City Classic deal sends this subtle message to the larger business world: As a people, blacks do not value what we own and what it is truly worth. We tend to wallow in a perpetual state of self-imposed financial illiteracy.
Magic City Classic football games will come and go each year. However, the ghost of Walter Johnsey seems destined to live on forever in Alabama. The guardians of our political, educational, and economic interests in the state appear to be hopelessly trapped between the enduring legacies of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and political operative Walter Johnsey.