Statues Of Sports Stars Help Us Remember Them As Larger Than Life More than statues of generals or politicians, those of athletes are remembrances of good things past, says Frank Deford.
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Statues Of Sports Stars Help Us Remember Them As Larger Than Life

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Statues Of Sports Stars Help Us Remember Them As Larger Than Life

Statues Of Sports Stars Help Us Remember Them As Larger Than Life

Statues Of Sports Stars Help Us Remember Them As Larger Than Life

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/484719663/484894728" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This statue of tennis great Arthur Ashe by sculptor Paul Di Pasquale was unveiled on Monument Ave. in Richmond, Va., almost 20 years ago, on July 10, 1996. Steve Helber/AP hide caption

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Steve Helber/AP

This statue of tennis great Arthur Ashe by sculptor Paul Di Pasquale was unveiled on Monument Ave. in Richmond, Va., almost 20 years ago, on July 10, 1996.

Steve Helber/AP

Pete Rose may not make the Hall of Fame, but a statue of him is going to be erected outside the Cincinnati Reds' ballpark. Statues of sports stars are all the rage — especially in baseball. There are already seven other players frozen in statuary in Cincinnati, nine in St. Louis, six in both Baltimore and Detroit. It makes the legendary Monument Park in Yankee Stadium look like some drab wall in a hospital with the names of donors on plaques. Sports plaques seem so Rotary Club now.

There are also statues of coaches, including one of Pat Summitt, the great Tennessee coach who died last week; and even an announcer, Jack Buck, in St. Louis; a fictional athlete, Rocky Balboa, in Philadelphia; and one of sort of the royal family of hockey in Ontario –– Mom and Pop hand-in-hand with little Wayne Gretzky.

On Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., there are statues of five Confederate luminaries and then, incongruously in this company, one of Arthur Ashe. And now, in Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky, there is agitation to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and replace it with one of Muhammad Ali.

It's fascinating, isn't it, that whereas so many of our statues have been of military leaders, now it may well be sports stars who are the ones more likely to be so honored. I suspect much of this has to do with the fact that games are played by young men and women, and then they generally disappear for years — unlike other famous people who come to prominence at a more mature age and are more fresh in our memory, often even to the day they die.

But athletes, especially the ones who are our heroes when we are young, we want to remember them as they were truly carved in their prime: strong and bold, avatars who were not just physically supreme human beings but larger than life.

So it touches us in a special way when some great old star whose feats are long past dies at a ripe old age. Gordie Howe most recently. Ali, of course. Yogi Berra last September. Sure, every great person eventually leaves this vale of tears, but I believe that when an old athlete dies, it most harks us back to when we were young, too, and that great physical genius was so vivid, so inspiring.

Then too, more than statues of generals or politicians, those of athletes are remembrances of good things past.