UK Football

Trip to Ethiopia by Joker Phillips and Kentucky football group opens eyes, hearts

Joker Phillips showed an iPad to villagers during UK's tour of three Ethiopian cities: Korah, Adama and Gutumuma.
Joker Phillips showed an iPad to villagers during UK's tour of three Ethiopian cities: Korah, Adama and Gutumuma.

Earlier this spring, University of Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips invited offensive lineman Stuart Hines to go with him to the "homeland."

"I thought he meant Franklin," Hines said as reporters laughed at a news conference on Friday.

Actually, Phillips, who is from Franklin, Ky., invited Hines to join teammate Danny Trevathan on a goodwill trip to Africa in May.

The UK party of seven spent a week in Ethiopia. They delivered food, sports equipment and goodwill in a tour of three cities.

"It was not good," Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said in carefully describing the trip. "It was successful and impactful. Not good. Because what you saw was not good."

That proved especially true for Trevathan. A meeting with a woman he guessed was about 35 years old moved him. The football linebacker was carrying food into what could loosely be termed a tent when he noticed the woman lying on a cot and shaking. She gestured that she wanted to touch his hand. The woman took Trevathan's hand and squeezed. She spoke a few words that the UK player guessed was an attempt to say thank you.

"I turned around and shook my head," Trevathan said. "Then somebody was telling me that that was her last breath."

The woman died.

"She had time to thank me," Trevathan said. "That touched me the most."

Barnhart noted that the trip was part of the educational experience that UK hopes to provide its players.

"At the end of the day, our job is to educate young people," he said, "and enlarge their hearts and minds."

The emphasis was on how the trip could better the lives of people living in the African country and impact the lives of those Kentucky players and officials, Barnhart and Phillips said.

Barnhart suggested that UK athletics is about broadening the life experiences of the players as well as winning games.

When a reporter suggested UK athletics was better than its Southeastern Conference brethren because its concerns involved more than mere games, Barnhart balked.

"This is not a recruiting piece for us," he said. "We're going to try to expand these experiences. I think this is what we're supposed to do, something we are called to do."

Phillips noted how Hines and Trevathan charmed the children they met in Ethiopia.

"Stuart, they thought he was a circus animal," Phillips said. "Danny, they thought he was a billboard (with) all the tattoos."

Hines and Trevathan played with the children.

"Danny is a hugger," Phillips said. "Probably one of the reasons he doesn't miss tackles. ... I learned Danny is a big-time hugger."

When asked about the local food and drink, Phillips noted that he'd had 20 Coca- Colas in the last 10 years. "All on this trip," he said.

UK hopes to make annual goodwill trips to Ethiopia to gauge the success of improving lives, Barnhart said.

The trip was born from the Gameday Ready Tour UK launched last year with visits to Hyden, Central City, Danville, Franklin and Louisville.

Jason Schlafer, an Associate Athletic Director in Marketing and Licensing, headed the planning for the trip to Ethiopia in May. He chose Ethiopia because he and his wife had adopted a child from the East African nation and he had some familiarity with its culture.

Schlafer accompanied Hines and Trevathan, Phillips and Barnhart and their wives on a trip to three Ethiopian cities: Korah (or Kore), Adama and Gutumuma.

Barnhart and Phillips paid for their wives' travel, Schlafer said. The week-long trip cost the UK Athletic Department more than $9,000.