Rubin Grant vividly recalls the advice he received from his city editor during his internship as a newswriter at Montgomery’s Alabama Journal newspaper in the summer of 1978.
Grant had said he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing and his city editor thought he was crazy.
“I asked her why and she said, ‘Because you have a bright future as a news writer,'” he recalls.
But Grant was hired to cover meetings of the Montgomery County Commission, and the aspiring journalist was less than enthusiastic.
“I was bored to death, going to meetings and stuff,” he recalls. “I said I wanted to sort of be where the action is, so I’m just going to stick with the sport.”
Forty-four years later, few who know Grant doubt that he actually could have been a good news reporter. But fans of his sports coverage will give a ringing endorsement that he made the right move.
And some will say he has proven himself worthy of his other calling as a licensed Baptist minister.
The 64-year-old Montgomery native, who spent a quarter-century working for the Birmingham Post-Herald — which published its last issue on Sept. 23, 2005 — was listed in March as one of the 50 sportswriters selected by the Alabama Sports Writers’ Association (ASWA).
On Sunday, ASWA honored Grant and his other legends at the group’s 50th convention in Birmingham.
Grant is one of only two non-white journalists on this list. Kathy Jo Lumpkin, daughter of fellow 50 Legends honoree Bill Lumpkin, is the other.
Ginny MacDonald, Grant’s city editor when he was an intern at the Alabama Journal, laughed when reminded of her sage advice. She wouldn’t change her advice but is proud of the career Grant has built.
“I don’t read about it (sport) a lot, but I’m really happy when I see his name in a sports story because I know it’s going to be done well,” she said, “simply because, like I said in 1978, he is an extremely good author. And he’s a really lovely person.”
ASWA Legend status is just the latest accolade for Grant, who was inducted into the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame in 2008 after 25 years of reporting on the team. In 1981, he and Paul Finebaum received ASWA’s Herby Kirby Award for Outstanding Sports History, recruiting top basketball talent Bobby Lee Hurt of Butler High School in Huntsville.
Grant received the 2021 Mel Allen Media Award from the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame for his career as a sportswriter. Coincidentally, he writes the resumes of those inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (ASHOF) each year.
There is a bit of irony in the Mel Allen Award as it is named after the Birmingham native who was inducted into the ASHOF in 1974 after two decades of being known as the “voice of the New York Yankees”. Grant thought about going down a similar path.
“I’ve been thinking about broadcast rather than print journalism because anyone who watches a game with me will tell you I’m the best at it,” he said. “I see things, even if I’m just watching TV, before the commentators even say anything about it.”
But as a freshman at the University of Alabama, the aspiring broadcaster was reoriented in the summer of 1975. When asked if he wanted to study broadcast journalism or print, he answered print because he was familiar with it as the sports editor of his high school yearbook.
“Alabama didn’t train me to be a sportswriter. They trained me to be a journalist,” Grant said. “They formed an investigative team for The Crimson White (student newspaper) and I was on that team. I was actually appointed political editor for my junior year.”
The student journalist said he was sick of clashing with The Machine — “the Greek system at UA that governs student politics on campus and has a stronghold of politics in the state after students graduate.” He quit as political editor at The Crimson White and approached the sports editor to write for him during Grant’s junior year.
As a senior, Grant was appointed sports editor, becoming the first black person to hold the position in the 1978-79 school year.
He has worked as a freelance journalist since 2004 and is now the sports editor of Over The Mountain Journal. He also co-wrote “Tales from Alabama Prep Football” with Ron Ingram, former prep sports editor of the Birmingham News and another legend among the ASWA 50 sports writers.
“We spent about a year putting it together,” Ingram said of the book. “It was a lot of fun putting it together and just a really great opportunity.”
Although he worked for competing newspapers, Ingram said he and Grant were never rivals. They remain good friends to this day, sharing a love of high school sports.
“That just seemed like something I really connected with and enjoyed, and Rubin was the same,” said Ingram, now director of communications for the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “But Rubin could write about anything. Every Monday I get a devotional from him that he sends me, almost like a sermon. It’s well researched and documented, and it’s really an uplifting message for this week. It kind of helps me get going.”
These weekly writings—Do You Know What Time It Is?, or DYK for short—give a glimpse into Grant’s deeper calling. Beyond sports or news, as a licensed Baptist minister, he brings the good news of the gospel.
Grant grew up at 2 St. James Baptist Church in Montgomery. He said his “deep immersion” in religion came after watching the film The Ten Commandments.
“Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston,” he said in a booming, majestic tone. But Grant wasn’t content to just watch. Even then he checked the facts.
“I took a Bible with me,” he said. “I wanted to see if this is an accurate representation. I knew nothing about poetic liberty and all that and the made-up romance between Moses and Nefertiti. I started searching the Scriptures to see if the ‘Ten Commandments’ matched what the Bible said.”
There were people in his church who said, “You’re going to be a preacher.” He had the same intuition, as did his wife, Wardinia.
“I kind of knew that myself, knew about this calling,” he recalled. “After we got married, Dina prayed – she knew it too – that the Lord would give us just one year together before I would go into ministry.”
Grant preached his trial sermon at Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Riley neighborhood of Birmingham in September 1981 and became a licensed Baptist minister that year with the National Baptist Association.
The couple celebrated 42 years of marriage on May 3. They have a daughter, Krystal Folkestad, her husband Evan and a grandson, 3-year-old Cyrus Stefan Folkestad.
Grant said he was a three-time graduate of George Washington Carver High School in Montgomery, having completed elementary school, junior high school and senior high school there. He was a fielder on the Carver baseball team and wanted to be the next Willie Mays.
“That’s how I became a Giants (Major League Baseball San Francisco) fan,” he said. “But obviously I didn’t have the ability to go beyond high school.”
But baseball wasn’t his first love of sport. That was the NFL.
“I was a Baltimore Colts fan, a die-hard Baltimore Colts fan,” Grant said. “My mom used to let me leave church and come home to watch the NFL game, which started at noon. I’d probably be dead by now if we had the availability to look at all that stuff (which we do now). I can hear her say, ‘You’re not going to watch TV all day or football all day in this house. You’re going to have to do some other things.”
“If I had protested then, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be sitting here now,” he laughed.
This story was originally published by The Birmingham Times.