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Should We Build Statues To People While They're Still Alive? i.e. The Jim Brown Question

Two of the four people being honored by Syracuse University this weekend are still alive. One of those two is a prime example of why perhaps immortalizing someone before their story is done being told might not be the smartest idea.

Matthew Beckler

Dick Vitale has been lobbying for years for Syracuse University to build a statue for legendary Orange coach Jim Boeheim. If anyone in Syracuse is going to be worthy of such an honor, it's probably James Arthur. Syracuse Basketball was pretty good before he took over the program but in the 35+ years since the entire program has become intrinsically-linked to him. Every head coach who works here will do so with his shadow looming large over them.

Naturally, we thought it was a terrible idea.

Not because Boeheim isn't deserving. But because his story is still being told. It's a story with a lot of wins, a bunch of Final Fours, a National Title and a slew of amazing community & charity work. It's also a story that includes NCAA violations and God-knows-what skeletons still hanging in Bernie Fine's closet.

As I talked about in that piece, we seem to be going through a reckoning of sorts when it comes to our athletic heroes and how, ultimately, we don't really know them. Dave Meggett was one of my heroes growing up, a diminutive runner who made watching New York Giants football unpredictable and exciting. What I didn't know at the time was that Meggett was a serial rapist. But if I had seen him on the street, I would have asked for his autograph, shook his hand and posed for a photo, all the while thinking he was the most amazing guy in the world.

The last couple decades have given us countless examples of icons and heroes who turned out to be cheaters, liars and, perhaps worst of all, weak men who said nothing when all they had to do was say anything.

Joe Paterno. Lance Armstrong. Mark McGwire. Pete Rose. Rae Carruth. Aaron Hernandez. O.J. Simpson. Roger Clemens. Tiger Woods.

All of them were unquestionably-adored at one point in their lives. The kind of people you could have built a statue to and no one would have argued. That is, until the truth came out. Until we got the whole story.

This weekend, Syracuse University will unveil Plaza 44. Included will be three statues, each one representing a famous football star who wore the coveted No. 44: Ernie Davis, Jim Brown and Floyd Little. They'll also be unveiling a statue for Ben Schwartzwalder, who coached the SU football program to it's only National Championship.

Two of the four people being honored have already passed away.

Ernie Davis's legacy was never in doubt and this statue, the second one on campus, is a welcome sight and beacon for the university.

The Schwartzwalder statue is an interesting case because there was a time in the school's history when it might have been unthinkable to see such a thing. In the wake of The Syracuse 8 demonstrations and the way Schwartzwalder handled it, there was a sour note left behind that cannot be extracted from his legacy entirely. Time has healed some of those wounds, or at least smoothed over the jagged edges, and so long as Syracuse also gives due to the players who spoke up, it seems fair to also honor Schwartzwalder for what he did on the football field (and in World War II).

As for the other two statues, they're both for people who are still living and breathing. As far as I'm aware, Floyd Little is the embodiment of the kind of representative Syracuse Football and Syracuse University wants. He's the kind of man you want talking to current players and speaking on behalf of the program. If there are skeletons in his closet, I'm not aware of any at this time.

And then there's Jim Brown. I'm gonna be honest with you, it weirds me out that no one wants to talk about Jim Brown's reputation off the field when it comes to physically-assaulting women. Over the years, accusations were made against him by multiple women and the fact that they always seemed to disappear or get recanted doesn't make them any better. While it'd be easy to say "the past is the past" and everyone has moved on, all you have to do is look at how swiftly the accusations against Bill Cosby went from "just hearsay" to "oh my God Bill Cosby is a living monster."

And you can't really use the "Well, He Was Never Convicted" defense anymore, unless you also want to defend Greg Hardy or Ray Rice while you're at it.

I don't know if Jim Brown's past will ever be dug into like Cosby and I don't know if new accusations or accusers will ever come forward, but that's not really the point. The world is a very different place in 2015 than it was in 1975, or even 2005. The only thing keeping Brown in the good graces of Americans everywhere is that no one has decided to shine a light on what's right in front of us.

Not to mention that if he did the things he's been accused of, he picked the "right" time in modern American history to do them.

There's no question Brown's accomplishments on the football field (and lacrosse field) are worthy of remembrance. But I can't help but wonder if Syracuse University really wants to fashion an idol dedicated to a man who's personal life is chocked full of assaults, arrests and accusations of assault against multiple women.

Maybe no one will make a stink about it. Maybe I'm the only one thinking about these things. Maybe by the time he passes away we'll have had some time to look at the entirety of Brown's life and see all of the good he accomplished alongside the bad. We'll be able to tell the story of a man who made many mistakes but also learned from them. Maybe not.

Maybe he's just the kind of person we can honor but don't need to actually build a statue for. At least not until we know his story is officially over.