MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While they've spent plenty of their time in Memphis preparing to do battle with Oklahoma State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, the Missouri Tigers have also found time to visit some of the city's more renowned sites.
Two of those visits — one to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the other to the National Civil Rights Museum — have been especially poignant for Missouri and head coach Barry Odom.
On Dec. 28, Odom and 15 or so of his players visited some of the children at St. Jude, one of the nation's premier childhood cancer research hospitals. The group played with the children and signed autographs for them.
"The service St. Jude puts on for our entire country is unmatched," Odom said. "The impact that our kids had in interacting with young children that have been there (was great)."
On Dec. 29, the team visited the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination on April 4, 1968. The two teams playing in the Liberty Bowl visit the museum every year.
Today, the exterior of the motel remains the same, but the interior has been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by Dr. King and others in their battle for civil rights.
The historical significance of the Lorraine Motel site was not lost on Odom.
"(It was) one of the most eye-opening, humbling experiences for us as team," Odom said at a Sunday afternoon press conference.
Saturday wasn't the first time Odom has brought players to see the museum. When he was a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis from 2012-14, he took his players to see the site, as well.
Odom emphasized the need for his players to understand the historical context of the Civil Rights Movement, and said the museum is a great way to do that.
"I thought it was (an) important (thing) for us to see and do and interact with and have conversations about," Odom said.
The museum looks a bit different from when Odom first started taking his players to see it. In 2014, it reopened after completing a $27.5 million renovation, its first since it opened to the public in 1991. The renovation added more than 40 new films and exhibits to the museum, and updated the building's interior design.
Connie Dyson, the museum's marketing communications manager, said via email that she hopes the experience of visiting the museum allowed Missouri's players to see the kind of changes they, too, can make.
"Not only do we hope the players are able to see the parallels in episodes in American history that continue to have an impact on current issues today, we also hope they recognize the role young activists have in making a difference for social change," Dyson said in the email.
Odom said Missouri seeks to give its student-athletes experiences that will stick with them, especially surrounding a bowl game.
"The Civil Rights Museum and the visit to St. Jude are something that our football team will remember forever," Odom said. I’m thankful to have the chance to do that.”
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.