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COLUMN: Skating Past Our Real Heroes

Sports Editor

Published: Monday, January 28, 2013

Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 01:01


Two defining statues adorn the Boston College campus. 

One simultaneously shows aggressive, dynamic introspection in unison with desperate self-sacrifice. It is 10 feet tall, larger than life, and its bronze frame is displayed above a five foot platform. It is surrounded by classrooms.

The other shows a fleeting “Hail Mary.” The moment depicted doesn’t even have enough time to be full of grace. There is desperation here too, but it isn’t sacrificial. The desperation is for six points on a scoreboard. Desperation for a mark in a win column. Desperation for a relative miracle on a Miami field. It is a debatably life sized six-feet tall, but this bronze frame has no platform. It stands before a stadium.

Soon, there will be calls for a third statue to join St. Ignatius and Doug Flutie. It won’t be an inspiring professor or an influential administrator or a  deserving faculty member joining the famous quarterback and the founding Jesuit. It won’t be a president or a social activist or a second saint. 

It will be another man like Flutie, with records and trophies and awards. It will be a great man, but a man known for his greatness because of his domain. A man celebrated because his greatness occurred on a bench behind the ice.

After the coach’s time at BC comes to an end, maybe even before, alumni and administrators will inevitably push for a bronzed Jerry York on the Heights. Perhaps on the opposite side of Flutie, dressed in suit and tie with a stoic look lacking any desperation, because when has the legendary men’s hockey coach ever been remembered for desperation? There will be trophies around him, because there have to be. His unmatchable win total will be carved somewhere in the bronze. 

He will, of course, fight it, unless every single one of his players and assistants is included, but no one will listen.

There won’t be a platform and this bronze won’t be larger than life, the gradeur won’t go that far, but there will be a message. The same message that ran on the banner tracking his road to the winningest coach in college hockey history.

“In York We Trust.”

Not God, but York. Fans and alumni will turn York into a statue and into God. Not even a god, but God. 

It will be an extension of the growing hero worship in sports that proved yet again to be dangerous last week with the revelations of Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong’s lies, and I am as guilty of it as anyone. The danger doesn’t just come from the potential to mistake the truth, though. The danger is in who gets overlooked.

I met Armstrong once, at a charity event when I was eight or nine. I looked up at him with wide eyes and failed to get out any words. I thought he was God, or as close to God as a human could get, because I was told he was a great man that also dominated his sport. The latter was always more important than the former.

I’ve only ever admired a small number of people in my life, and a majority of them have been athletes or coaches. After Armstrong, I thought Vince Young was God. A few years later, I thought Kevin Durant was God. It didn’t matter that I was getting older, I couldn’t rationally separate their athletic accomplishments from how I saw them as people.

There are people that I talk to every day who are as humble as Durant, but they don’t have his jumpshot. I didn’t watch any of them, like Young, bounce USC tacklers away like pinballs on the way to a national championship. There were no glowing columns or uplifting features written about them for me to read.

And there won’t be any statues. Not for them, or for another great man like Rev. Michael Himes, or for any of the other incredible men and women who have touched this campus. The athletes will outnumber the saint two to one.

These athletes and these coaches aren’t any more heroic than anyone else. Most of them know it. Some of them don’t. But a lot of them understand it better than the rest of us do. 

I sat across from Luke Kuechly at media days last year and, week after week, was constantly stunned by how good a person he seemed to be. And even though I still believe he is, the only reason I was stunned was because he also went out on Saturdays and tackled like a monster.

Now, after Te’o, Armstrong and the other downfalls in sports, I’ve started to separate touchdowns from character, highlights from heroism, and wins from Godliness. We will separate athletes from gods in this section. It’s unfair to them, and it’s unfair to our readers.

And when the push for the bronzed York comes, the question shouldn’t be whether or not York deserves it, because he does. The question shouldn’t be whether or not BC will ever come to regret it, because that shouldn’t be a concern.

 The question should be whether or not the next statue should really go to another sports figure. 

If the answer is yes, I don’t envy that sculptor. It’s going to take a lifetime to build those hundreds of extra statues displaying York’s players and assistants behind him. 

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