Joe Paterno statue not the only odd effigy
If there was a shred of doubt the “leaders” at Penn State University continue to value the profits churned out by their football machine over their humanity and decency, that doubt has been erased.
Why aren’t they taking down the statue of Joe Paterno, who could have done something to prevent the unconscionable abuse of children at Penn State?
“You can’t let people stampede you into making a rash decision,” a PSU trustee told ESPN.com.
Well. If there’s one thing at which the Penn State hierarchy excels, it’s a steadfast refusal to making any quick decisions.
Some board members don’t want to offend the fans and alumni who continue to worship their beloved JoePa.
Right. Better to offend the victims and their families.
What is it about our culture and the ever-growing need to immortalize coaches, athletes and even sitcom stars?
Humankind has been paying tribute to itself for a long time. Archaeologists say the first drawing of a human by another human is 27,000 years old. Ancient civilizations built monuments to gods and emperors. The Venus of Willendorf, a four-inch-high statuette of a voluptuous woman, dates back some 24,000 years.
In recent centuries, world leaders, legendary artists and geniuses who changed the world have been immortalized. Even sports legends such as Babe Ruth and Ted Williams were given statues or monuments — but it was almost always after the athlete had retired or passed on. It’s only in the last generation subjects can show up for the unveiling of their own tributes.
Not only do the Bulls have the Michael Jordan sculpture outside the United Center — now there’s a statue honoring the second-best guy on the team inside the stadium.
The White Sox’ first base coach, Harold Baines, is immortalized on the outfield wall at U.S. Cellular Field and with a statue in the ballpark. And get this: When Baines was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1989, the Sox retired his number. The guy was 30 years old! When Baines returned to the Sox in 1996, they had to unretire his number. No offense to a terrific ballplayer, but Baines isn’t even in the Hall of Fame. It’s ridiculous.
Not that the Sox are unique. From the statues of Ernie Banks and Billy Williams (and Harry Caray) outside Wrigley Field to the “Mr. Padre” statue of Tony Gwynn outside Petco Park in San Diego to the likenesses of Giants players along the San Francisco Bay to the statue of Phil Niekro frozen forever in time delivering a knuckleball outside Turner Field in Atlanta, at least half the teams in baseball have commissioned statues in recent years.
Most startling: the statue in Arlington, Texas, depicting Cooper Stone and his father, Shannon, the off-duty firefighter who died when he fell over the fence reaching for a ball tossed by Josh Hamilton.
Such a heartfelt tribute. The family was in favor of the statue and was there for the unveiling last spring.
But take a step back and think about it. Cooper Stone is 7. For the rest of his life, every time he goes to a game he’ll be reminded of that senseless tragedy. And how does Josh Hamilton feel about it? Fifty years from now, how will older fans explain that sculpture to their grandchildren?
Pop goes the statue
Then there are the statues of movie charactors, pop singers and TV sitcom stars peppering the national landscape.
There’s a giant bust of Frank Zappa outside a Baltimore library — and even weirder, it’s a replica of a statue in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Zappa was not Lithuanian. There is no record of him ever visiting Lithuania.)
A bronze Mary Richards tosses her hat in Minneapolis. Samantha Stephens rides a broom is in Salem, Mass., which is a little bizarre given how Salem treated its suspected witches. And of course a thousand meatheads have mimicked the arms-raised statue of Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia.
In Milwaukee they’ve got a statue of the Fonz from “Happy Days.” Problem is, the bronze Fonz looks like an evil, possessed, madly grinning demon.
We are heading toward a time when there will be more statues of pop culture figures than presidents in this country.
Of course, we’re already at the point where people can recognize the Fonz than identify Franklin Delano Roosevelt.