It is always a risky proposition erecting a statue or naming a street, building or bridge after a living human. As long as someone still lives, there’s always the opportunity for some nefarious conduct on their part, or a change in opinion on the part of others, to make for an embarrassing situation. Ask the city of Fairfield, Alabama (on the outskirts of Birmingham) how it looked after having named their main street and their hospital after Richard Scrushy, the former CEO and founder of Healthsouth, who is now languishing in a federal penitentiary after being convicted of bribing former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Scrushy managed to escape criminal conviction for accounting fraud, but didn’t escape civil judgment (sort of like O.J. Simpson), and didn’t escape the bribery charge, although to be fair, Scrushy and Siegelman did nothing but carry on as politicians and business leaders always have; their prosecution was mostly motivated by Siegelman’s successor in office wanting to ensure the former governor posed no threat to his own re-election. If former Governor Bob Riley (the politican whose career most benefited from Siegelman’s prosecution and conviction) manages to stay out of jail for things he did as governor, he will be the first to do so since George Wallace. Imagine, George Wallace has become a twentieth-century icon of clean governance in Alabama.
So now Alabama, Auburn and Florida have gone statue happy over their football heroes. Alabama just completed a statue of Nick Saban, justified by his having coached the team to another of its mythical national championships. All of the previous coaches that brought home a mythical national championship–Wallace Wade, Paul Bryant, Gene Stallings, etc.–have likewise been honored. But Saban’s contract isn’t even up. Not that he’ll stay until its completion. Saban has no more loyalty to Alabama football than an average Fortune 500 CEO has to his company. He’s just there to do a job and collect as much dough along the way as he can.
Auburn and Florida are erecting statues to their Heisman Trophy winners (five in all), the most recent two (Tim Tebow and Cam Newton) not having yet reached the age of 25, which is generally the youngest age at which family trusts will allow beneficiaries to access their dough. In other words, Auburn and Florida are erecting statues to honor, not memorialize, what amounts to children.
Are there any adults in college football? Bryant Gumbel offers some perspective, from a Birmingham News article quoting his comments on HBO Real Sports:
“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…
…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 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?
I won’t dither long over how vain and stupid it is to believe that erecting a statue in any way immortalizes anyone. I’ll just point out that “immortal” means eternal and any bronze likeness of a human is apt to last only a sliver longer, relative to the grand sweep of eternity, than the actual human it “immortalizes”.
Gumbel insinuates, much, I am sure, to the consternation of Auburn fans everywhere, that Auburn may one day wish to forget, rather than memorialize, Cam Newton’s one season with them:
…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.
In the meantime, Nick Saban allegedly told John Elway that Auburn would not have won four games without Cam Newton. Which, of course, isn’t true. Like all Division One (or whatever they’re calling the football factories these days) powerhouses, Auburn had at least three gimmes on its schedule, not counting the Vanderbilt’s, Kentucky’s and Ole Miss’s in the SEC. Auburn fans, forever sporting a chip on their shoulder for having to endure the ignominy of being perceived as Alabama’s poor cousin in football, now have a couple more things to be mad about. Which is good for them. Though they won’ t admit it, they enjoy the disrespect, and the anger it fuels. It defines them.
And now, the nut that claims to have poisoned the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, claims to have been attacked in the parking lot of an Opelika, AL gas station after attending the preliminary hearing for his
tree murder criminal mischief trial. Harvey Updike was treated and released in a local emergency room, from the Birmingham News:
Opelika police Capt. Allan Elkins said Updyke suffered a scratch to the forehead during the alleged assault at the Tiger Express, according to the Opelika-Auburn News.Elkins said Updyke “has not really been too cooperative at this point.”