‘More than Rivals’ book, soon-to-be movie recounts hug heard ’round Gallatin

Sports

GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – This is a story about love.

It starts with a love of the game.

“Basketball is a personal game,” said Bill Ligon. “I got to see you, touch you. We’re going to sweat on each other.”

Love is complicated. At a time when Gallatin was segregated, that kind of close contact didn’t happen between whites and Blacks. The only color Eddie Sherlin was focused on was orange.

“One way I could go to town was through the Black section and I was going through there one day and saw Bill (Ligon) and them playing and I wanted to play so bad,” said Eddie Sherlin. “Basketball was probably my favorite sport.”

It was also Bill’s, but playing together in the 1960s was no small feat.

“To meet somebody who literally just wanted to play. Not saying, “Oh maybe I shouldn’t do this. My parents may get upset. I don’t know what my friends are going to think about this, that and the other,” because this was the mental jousting that people went through,” said Ligon.

Ligon and Sherlin’s friendship and one small gesture sparked a wave of change throughout the town.

“You’re a pioneer. You’re something a little bit different than people are used to seeing and that’s what the circumstances were at that particular time,” said Ligon. “It’s just a little bit different. Ain’t never seen anything like it. I mean goodness gracious alive. If you hugged a white person in 1965, no telling what would’ve happened to you.”

You’ll have to read the book, More than Rivals, to find out what happened next. Or, watch the soon-to-be movie.

“I thought, maybe I could tell this story about Bill and I,” said Sherlin.

The ball started rolling from there and landed in Nancy Bailey’s court.

“Just before I closed my door, Eddie calls and makes an appointment, comes in and says, “you got to make a move about my life story,” and I said, “I don’t do movies,”‘ said Bailey.

She used to make medical training videos and is now taking on a job bigger than she’s ever done.

“We ended up on the New York Time’s best seller list. So, there! I mean, we have a great story and so I just kept going and trying to find more money and I ran into the same roadblocks,” said Bailey. “So eventually I decided to give the movie rights to a company in New York called Sterling Worldwide Films.”

Bailey loved the story so much it was worth fighting for.

“The story will take hold in somebody’s heart and that will be told to another person and so on and hopefully things will change,” she said.

It’s too late to fix the past, but the hope is that the story helps shape the future.

“I wish I could’ve done more but I hurt for him now because I realize what he went through,” said Sherlin. “I didn’t then, but I do now.”

As they prepare to watch their lives play out on the big screen, it’ll be messy – as love can be sometimes.

“You don’t get to look back on a fifty or sixty year situation and have it come to life because today, most times people are really just not interested in looking a the past because it sometimes has some circumstances that people don’t like to revisit,” said Ligon.

But revisiting is the biggest step toward reshaping.

“I hope that our story will cause people to think and feel a little different toward each other and I just hope that everybody will be touched by this story,” said Sherlin.

Ligon went on to play basketball at Vanderbilt University and was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1974. He later graduated with a law degree from Vanderbilt and is currently an attorney in Gallatin. Sherlin was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 4th round of the 1970 MLB Amateur Draft. He played five seasons of minor league baseball.

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