For reasons that evade, well, reason, the Jerry Richardson statue outside the Carolina Panthers’ stadium has become a matter of much discussion about narcissism, bottom-kissing, legacies and the vanity of powerful people who worry about them.
And all I can think of is all the statues of Joseph Stalin that were eagerly commissioned while he was alive and destroyed with extraordinary zeal within months of his death.
We will not discuss whether having Richardson standing between two panthers (allegedly representing offense and defense, as well as North and South Carolina) is an eyesore. That’s for art majors and the lesser of our nation’s hot-take dealers.
"It will always represent a symbol of heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to the Richardson family."https://t.co/nwgDyV7Buc
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) July 18, 2016
But Richardson’s right to have his pals build him a statue is not in dispute here. You can argue about what he’s done to earn it, and how many hundreds of millions of public dollars contributed both voluntarily and compulsorily made him statue-worthy, but someone wanted him to have this, so he has it.
What is at issue is the more visceral matter of why he would want it at all, knowing what we do with statues and plaques and honoraria, which is “melt them down and do it again as soon as it’s safe to forget the original awardee.”
After all, Stalin shaped global politics for a century with a level of savagery almost unmatched on this planet, scaring those under his thrall to the point where he may have had the most statues commissioned of him in human history.
And as soon as he died, they came down, were melted, and got turned into decorative wrought-iron fencing and smaller statues of less offensive people. His legacy as a mass-murdering bastard kicked the ass right off the statuary, as it should be.
Statues are yesterday’s business, anyway. In a disposable age in which everything can be saved on cellphones (the ultimate diminution of the human experience), a statue is a needless redundancy that serves largely as a shiny bombsight for flocks of geese.
Sports owners think in terms of statues a lot, though, and just a tour around most modern stadiums and arenas will tell you that. Most of them honor players because people are far more attracted to a bronze rendition of Willie Mays hitting a home run whole in a near-genuflect -- it’s the human form at its best -- but a ring of statues is now considered as important to stadium construction as number of bathrooms.
But a metallurgic representation of an owner, even one standing behind animals who in real life would shred the human into delicious bite-sized bits just for amusement is merely a testimonial to the assumption that the owner is as important to the customer as the player, and that is demonstrably false based on this old truth: At no time in human history has anyone ever bought a ticket to a sporting event and asked to be seated as close to the turnstile as possible.
The games and their practitioners are what matter to the people who will admire the statue on a day-to-day basis, not the guy who handled the financing or blackjacked the local government to help get that done.
More to the point, the owner gets paid off in other ways, starting with the pay. The owner gets to name the stadium after himself (or herself, in those cases where a woman owns a team), even though most owners have sought out more money by selling said rights. In fact, Richardson has the stadium at North Carolina-Charlotte named after him, but that wasn’t done at his behest.
Moreover, a statue is a mythical representation of what is being sold inside, and sports are myth. Business is anything but myth, and owners like Richardson who believe they are part of the mythmaking machinery essentially forget or ignore what their assigned role in sports actually is.
Specifically, they get our money, not our hearts.
Richardson is an unusual case here, since he is one of the rare owners who played the sport at the highest level (he was a flanker for two years with the Baltimore Colts of the Johnny Unitas Era), and maybe thinks of himself as a player in his soul.
But he’s not that unusual because all the other players with statues didn’t have the statues put up themselves. He is wearing a suit. He looks like he’s going to a competition committee meeting, and the panthers look like they are there to keep reporters away. Mythologizing that aspect of the endeavor conflates the owner on an equal plane with the players in the hearts and minds of the customers, and that is plainly nonsense.
In short, all the honorifics Jerry Richardson is and has been may well be worthy of can be debated, but a statue is, well, just asking for it.
At some point, owners pass, and Richardson has said that upon his death he wants the team sold outside his family to anyone with the money who will pledge to keep the team in Charlotte.
The solution? Put the statue in Richardson’s office at the stadium, so that the one person most interested in it can admire it all day long, and after he passes, his family can take it with them. Otherwise, the public (and the occasional bird) will make its own determination of the value of the statue, and that can’t be guaranteed.
Just ask Joseph Stalin.