Thus far this spring, Alabama and Florida have unveiled statues honoring their latest title-winning head coach and three Heisman Trophy winners, respectively, during or before their annual spring games. Auburn also announced recently that they will memorialize their trio of Heisman winners in larger-than-life bronze at some point in the future.
We’ve received our fair share of complaints from readers, both in the comments section underneath posts and via email, regarding this seemingly abrupt rush to “deify” sports figures. Take heart, though, anti-statue people; you have some high-profile company.
During tonight’s episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel — I can hear the groans coming from The Plains as I type — Gumbel’s closing commentary is dedicated to “statutes and statues.” Specifically, as noted in the headline, “southerners, in particular, have gone bronze bonkers of late.” Ahead of the show, HBO sent out a press release — gee, wonder why they did that? — with the entire text of Gumbel’s show-ending monologue. Here it is, in its entirety:
“Finally tonight a few words about statutes and statues. The fact that so many sports figures these days are running afoul of the former has me wondering why some are in such a hurry to erect the latter.
In case you’ve missed it, it seems southerners, in particular, have gone bronze bonkers of late. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, they’ve unveiled a statue of Nick Saban, after just 43 wins there. In Gainesville, Florida they’ve unveiled a statue of their 23-year-old hero Tim Tebow and in Auburn there’s one now planned for 21-year-old Cam Newton – even though he played all of one controversial and highly suspect season at their school.
It used to be you had to serve a lifetime and die for your country or some noble cause to be immortalized. Now, it seems, all you have to do is generate some cheers and win a few football games for those who live and breathe for such things. If nothing else, you’d think they’d wait at least awhile to see how events play out because recent sports history has taught us that yesterday’s hero might quickly become tomorrow’s outcast.
You’ll recall that it wasn’t that long ago that the trusting citizens of Cleveland might have considered a LeBron James statue, or those in the Bay Area were eager to immortalize Barry Bonds. How stupid would a Roger Clemens monument look outside Fenway Park look right about now? And how many Tiger Woods likenesses will ever see the light of day, even though they once seemed certain to dot golf’s varied landscape?
Look, everyone’s got the right to honor who they wish and how they want. But as with everything else in these days of instant gratification, perspective and timing should count for something, shouldn’t it? I mean if someone’s truly deserving of a lasting monument, what’s the rush?
And that’s our show for this evening. For all the good folks here at Real Sports, I’m Bryant Gumbel, thanks so very much for being with us and good night.”
OK, I get it. “It used to be you had to serve a lifetime and die for your country or some noble cause to be immortalized.” That’s a very noble and very honorable approach to bronzing that should continue. However, it also used to be that you had to go outside of your home to relieve yourself. You also used to actually have to get up out of your seat and change the channel on your television manually. And pay with (gasp!) cash. And go to your bookshelf — or the library — and pick up an encyclopedia if you wanted to Google something.
Times change, Mr. Gumbel — for better and worse.
Alabama created their Walk of Champions in 2004 to, in part, honor all of the head coaches of national title-winning teams. It just so happened that, five years later, Saban became the fifth Tide coach to bring home a title to Tuscaloosa. How long should they have to wait in order for another statue to be appropriate? 143 games? 243? After he’s dead, and only then if he’s saved X number of babies and/or puppies from burning buildings?
NFL players, after just five years out of the game, are eligible to be immortalized with a bronze bust in the Hall of Fame for the “noble cause” of playing football really, really well and getting paid even better. Where’s the faux outrage for individuals who did nothing but “generate some cheers and win a few football games”?
And as for Florida honoring Tebow, it’s not as if the university erected a lone graven image to God’s Quarterback; no, Gumbel conveniently “forgets” to mention that the school’s two other Heisman winners — Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel — were honored with a statue as well. All three players were honored for what they accomplished at the collegiate level. As their college careers are over, we ask again: how long should you have to wait?
Perhaps the only remotely valid argument Gumbel makes is in regards to Newton, and even that should be viewed through the prism of, as far as anyone knows, neither Newton nor Auburn have been proven to have done anything that could be construed as coloring outside of the NCAA lines. Should Cam have to pay for the sins of the father, especially when it comes to what amounts to, really, a meaningless statue? And that’s without even mentioning, in a point once again conveniently forgotten by the host, that Auburn already had plans in the work to honor their two other Heisman winners — Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan — before Newton went off on his stiff-armed run during his one and only year on The Plains.
While Gumbel sees it as instant deification, I see it as honoring and appreciating individuals past and present for what they did at the collegiate level. I see nothing wrong with that, or at least no more than their professional counterparts doing the same for people who did nothing more than playing a game that, in the grand scheme of things, means next to nothing.
What he and others should be concerned about is the placing of 13- and 14-year-old kids up on a pedestal the minute they show any athletic potential. That kind of instant deification is where the monologues and outrage should be directed.