Dominique Wilkins press conference

The new owner meets the press

Christian Zucconi, Michele Kong and Hannah Hooper of KultureCity

OK, your first reaction is obviously: pretty sure that’s not the Human Highlight Film in that photo. Well, clearly not, but he may well agree with this writer that he was not the most important guest at Protective Stadium yesterday.

You see, Dominique Wilkins’ connection to the Legion, Protective Stadium and Birmingham in general comes about as a result of his relationship with the organization KultureCity. In the conference held yesterday immediately prior to the Legion WFC game, Wilkins explained that two of his children are “on the spectrum”, including his youngest daughter who is a victim of spina bifida. Her asking him “why can’t I walk like my brothers and sisters?” led him to look for solutions. Hence KultureCity, which offers services to people with what they describe as “invisible disabilities”, which includes PTSD, autism, Down’s Syndrome, dementia and other mental and physical impairments not necessarily obvious to others but which impact the affected individuals’ access to activities most consider ordinary.

In large part this consists of establishing “sensory rooms” at concert and sporting venues, which they have done at some 400 venues all across the country. They also train first responders and have several other programs. That includes an ongoing relationship with ColdPlay, but we won’t hold that against them. The organization was established by Birmingham doctors Julian Maha and Michele Kong, whose own child has autism. You can read their personal story here. Dominique Wilkins serves as KultureCity’s Board Chairman after meeting up with the Mahas in what he described as “a marriage made in heaven”. The board, by the way, also includes the comedian Ken Jeong (who in fact is himself a doctor).

Protective Stadium is equipped with a sensory room and the BJCC has two other such rooms at other locations. Wilkins’ own kids played soccer, so the eventual connection to the Legion becomes rather clear. And even more so in that Legion chairman James Outland explained in the presser that he has known Wilkins for some 30 years for professional reasons. I would also note that Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is not listed on KultureCity’s website as having a sensory room, so United’s loss is the Legion’s gain, I guess (not that Arthur Blank needs any extra cash).

With that explained, Wilkins stated in the conference that he wants to be known as “something other than just an Atlanta Hawk.” His involvement with KultureCity is a big part of that, of course, but he also wants “to be engaged with a young franchise that’s coming up. Not just a young franchise, but, you know, they’re playing some games.” He also wants to help Birmingham “bridge so many gaps within the communities” as well as “build this brand.” Wilkins also went to describe his experiences watching soccer in Italy and Greece while playing in Europe late in his career and how he has been impressed to see how soccer has grown since then in the US. He went on later to explain how growing up in the civil rights era gave him the opportunity to see “how sports have a great way of bridging gaps, and that’s the biggest reason for what I want to do here in Birmingham, the birthplace of civil rights.” It also turns out that he has spent a great deal of time here over the years, especially while playing in college, so already feels some connection to the city.

When asked how he hopes the Legion will help to promote the mission of KultureCity, his response was that “every sports team has the responsibility to do something like that. Not only are you giving back, you are also building that trust and continuing to build a fan base, and you can’t have one without the other.” He also wants to help the players personally to get involved and develop their own philanthropic outreach. That prompted Jay Heaps to note that the KultureCity logo will, starting in July, be featured below the numbers on Legion jerseys. He presented personalized jerseys to the KultureCity staff on hand. All I can tell the merch addicts is that the jerseys were white with red lettering (we didn’t get to see the front though. Sorry!).

Wilkins also said that he’s going to be coming to a lot of games here in Birmingham, which his schedule has not previously allowed him to do in Atlanta, so he will become an even more familiar face in the near future.

The conference went on to cover various other team-related stuff, most importantly confirmation that a new training facility is on the way. The team also confirmed that they are hoping the project could lead to Birmingham being the home base for at least one team in the 2026 World Cup. A question was asked about potentially moving up to MLS, which was answered…in a tactful manner.

Finally, KultureCity has several fundraising events every year (and you can of course donate at their website at any time). One of those is their annual KultureBall, which this year will be held August 19 here in Birmingham and will have Ludacris as featured artist.

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