How a Florida LB became college football's No. 1 artist
James Bates began his art career as a Florida middle linebacker. Whenever one of his teammates had a scrape with the law, Bates would draw a cartoon of the incident on a dry erase board in the Gators' locker room.
The hard-hitting artist-in-residence won four SEC titles from 1993-96. As a senior, he served as a captain on the '96 national title team. But that's as far as football would take him. Though Bates grew up in a football family, he didn't follow his dad into coaching. Instead, he found a career in television. He started as a cable access host and parlayed that into a career calling games for various networks.
But Bates never stopped creating art. Quarterback Eric Kresser, then the backup to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, had taught Bates how to paint on canvas when the two played together. Jerri Spurrier, the wife of then-Florida coach Steve Spurrier, commissioned Bates to design a logo for a T-shirt for Florida's women's swim team. After college, Bates painted to quiet a mind that rarely focuses on anything for too long. It was part hobby and part therapy, but Bates didn't realize his art might also become a second career until he sold a landscape in 2005.
Bates began taking commissions from friends and acquaintances in Gainesville, Fla. As the years passed, customers found him on the Internet. He'll paint just about anything, but the characters that populate the world of college football are his favorite subjects. His style—part folk art and part political cartoon—lends itself perfectly to the absurdity of America's most provincial sport.
Need a painting of Jim Harbaugh in his pajamas for a sleepover at a recruit's house? He's done that. Need an ode to Gus Malzahn's sweater vest? Bates has painted that, too. If your school has a story, it might wind up on canvas as an original Batesy.