Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who's Statue-Worthy?

Many years ago, when my friend Glen Gardner and I were doing a morning show on a local radio station, we would occasionally do a segment called “Statue-Worthy”, in which we’d suggest names and let the listeners vote on whether or not the person we “nominated” was worthy of having a statue erected.

The genesis of this segment was the statuary in the photo above: Pat Richter and Barry Alvarez, guarding the entrance to Gate 1 at Camp Randall Stadium.  The statues were put up in 2006.

While we are both avid supporters of collegiate football, Glen and I both believed that far too much emphasis was placed on it by academic institutions, that the money involved in big-time Division One football is obscene, and that the level of hero-worship that exists in the jockocracy is silly.

Dona Shalala is as much responsible for the success of the UW football program as Alvarez and Richter, and you won’t find a statue of her anywhere – not even in Bascom Hall.  Shalala was smart enough to know that guys like Don Morton and Ade Sponberg were not going to get the UW football program back on track.  She knew the people of Wisconsin would respond to a local hero like Pat Richter taking the reins once held by the legendary Elroy Hirsch, and she relentlessly hounded Richter to take the job, even insisting that they make the announcement late in the day on December 31st, so that the Rose Bowl telecast buzz would be about Pat Richter taking the Athletic Director job at Wisconsin.

Our listeners agreed that if Richter (who did, indeed, rescue the UW Athletic Department from the sea of red ink it was drowning in) and Alvarez (the winningest football coach in Wisconsin history, the only one ever to win back-to-back Rose Bowls) were statue-worthy, then certainly a statue to Shalala should be erected.   Many of the callers made light-hearted jabs about how they’d have to hire a good statue-maker, who could make the tiny Shalala appear as prominently as Richter and Alvarez.

Given the good response to the first “statue-worthy” segment we did regarding former Chancellor Shalala, on a later broadcast we put Jeff Sauer’s name up for nomination, and the listeners resoundingly responded with a loud “YES!!!” and most insisted that if we were going to erect a statue for Sauer, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also erect a statue to Badger Bob Johnson.  Between Coach Sauer and Badger Bob’s contributions of players to the NHL, you could put together a team that would stand the challenge of any Hockey All-Star squad you care to assemble.

Through the course of these little show segments between 2006 and 2008, Glen and I came up with a list of other people who were statue-worthy and passed muster with the audience. 

And, of course, with any discussion of statuary around Camp Randall came the universal complaints about the “Nail’s Tales” statue which went up in 2005.  It’s perhaps best described as a maggot-infested corn cob, and a friend of mine (TV writer and producer John Roach, who knows a thing or two about sports) suggested Sunday that now that there’s an empty spot where Joe Paterno’s statue was, the good folks of the Badger state should ship Nail’s Tales over to Pennsylvania to fill the void left by the removal of the Paterno statue.

In his daily column/blog on the Isthmus Daily Page today, reacting to the news about Penn State, former Madison Mayor (and UW grad) Dave Cieslewicz suggests that the statues of Richter and Alvarez also be taken down.  He makes the same points Glen and I did years ago, but far more eloquently, with his rapier-like Polish wit.

The question “who’s statue-worthy” will always be one with many answers, but maybe it’s time to think a little harder about the kind of idol-worship we engage in.


  1. Defenders of the Richter and Alvarez statues quickly point out that they were paid for by private funds. My response to that is that both of those guys should have known better and strongly suggested that the money would be better spent on an endowed scholarship or even a top-shelf blocking sled. Who says, "Oh, you want to commission a statue of me? Good idea!"

  2. haha jason good comment.

    Eventually a lot of skeletons are going to come tumbling out of a lot of NCAA school's closets. L'affaire Sandusky wasn't really about what Sandusky did, it was about the culture of protecting the football program above all else.

    No major college football university with the possible exception of Northwestern is immune to this. I have a feeling that here in Madison, what will eventually come out will make Chadima and the AD's bacchanalian bash and $60 a head steak dinner during the last Rose Bowl look like my daughters sixth birthday party.

    Nothing along the lines of child molesting, mind you, but the same culture as Penn State will be shown to exist.

    1. Dan, I think in a court of law both prosecution and defense could stipulate to the existence of a "protect the football program" culture.....

      I concur with your analysis of what the Sandusky flap was/is about.

  3. Erecting a statue of someone who is still living is as risky as naming a school for someone who is still living (remember the flap over General Vang Pao?).

    1. Ha! Had forgotten the Vang Pao flap! Good point.

  4. This is something for the future...if they continue to uncover the sins of the Big 10-12...more statues will probably fall..this will make available a number of "shells" if you will that could be Photoshopped and retrofitted for a truly deserving dead person..dead for at least fifty years to preclude the chance of a discovery that the person was not as righteous as thought...hopefully this does not happen, but in our age of enlightenment nothing seems to miss disclosure if scratched at often enough and by the right sources....I too am in disagreement as to the honoring of Barry and Pat and not Donna...but NCAA Football continues to be weird..Bobby Bowden now the winning est coach?...onto another subject that I find disconcerting.....the rush by the politicians to fly our National Flag at half staff..granted the Batman Theater event is tragic, but I truly believe we need to re-evaluate this tribute...it should remain for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the Nation or the death of a President or former President...other than that it should not be used as a tool for political gain....it is too high of an honor, which I feel has been diminished somewhat by its recent and all too often occurrence....Tim...thanks for letting me use your blog...I feel better now!

    1. My pleasure, Gary - and the comment from my friend Mr. Knickerbocker, below, mirrors my sentiments.

  5. Garyjay ... 50 years would be safe, but not fair to the honoree's contemporaries. I've advocated that public assets may be named only for persons who have been dead a minimum of 14 years and have no legacy of sealed papers.

    I chose 14 years because nobody who is less than 14 years older than me seems old. It's my own guideline.

    Here on the eastern edge of civilization we have a ferry boat named after a local political schnook. Nothing to be done about it, but, poetically, the boat has proven to be a lemon.

    Agreed on the tendency to confer half-staff honors. The lack of standards diminishes the value. Same goes for calling everyone who acquits himself or herself honorably a hero.

  6. What bothers me about the Penn St. aftermath is that these institutes of higher learning are all missing a "teachable moment." It's a lesson about institutions, and in my mind, it goes like this.

    People throughout time have created institutions to protect them and better serve their goals or needs. Then over time due to members' greed, ego and need of feeling like they've cheated death by making a lasting mark, the people end up protecting and serving the institution.

    Institutions that are primarily by one sex are especially vulnerable. See sports institutions, the Catholic church, state and federal gov't to name just a few. They both can justify the abuse of members and cover it up to "protect the institution" and their own pocketbooks. Funny how Barry's dalliances at the lake house don't come up much in WI.

    So my point is, a lesson on the life cycle of institutions, an honest history lesson of them and the people who have led them would be a great undertaking. Joe Pa lived a pretty good life in whole. He got sucked into the same institutional vortex that has captured much lesser people.

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