It took Sept. 11 to remind us what football stadiums mean to the nation. One of the positive developments from that horrific day was the Chicago Bears’ decision (for now) not to re-name renovated Solider Field for a corporate sponsor.
The deaths of thousands of people in New York City and Washington, D.C., the declaration of war against our terrorist enemies, has brought into focus just how special a country we live in.
It has also brought into focus just how special the people are who served and died to defend the “last hope of Earth,” as Mr. Lincoln called America.
We should never forget these heroes.
This is why so many football stadiums around the country are dedicated to veterans.
In what other place but a football stadium can so many Americans of different social status, ethnic backgrounds, religions
and races come together in peace and harmony?
The military can bring together the same group, but its purpose is to, let’s be realistic, kill other human beings.
After World War I, stadiums for the growing sport of college football were constructed to honor the veterans from the country’s first world conflict.
World War I ended in November 1918. Less than a year later plans were made to build Soldier Field with a staggering capacity of 100,000.
The first game was played there in November 1924 with Notre Dame defeating Northwestern, but the stadium was dedicated, fittingly enough, with the year’s Army-Navy game in November 1927.
Soldier Field, though, was not the first field named in honor of the military to host a football game.
The leadership and fans of the University of California built Memorial Stadium two years after announcing in 1921 it was constructing a facility to honor World War I veterans.
According to the Cal. football media guide, when Cal.’s leadership announced the plan, more than $1 million was raised in a month. That amounted to 71 percent of the total cost.
In today’s market that would be like private donations totaling $235 million being raised in a month to build the $331 million Cardinals stadium.
Do you think money could be raised that quickly today? That’s how strongly Californians felt about honoring those who died in a cause of democracy.
Memorial Stadium was finished just in time for the Golden Bears to beat Stanford in November 1923.
Memorial Stadiums are sprinkled throughout the country. There is one at Oklahoma (World War I), Illinois (World War I), Nebraska (Civil War through Vietnam), Indiana, Kansas (KU student World War I dead), Missouri, Jackson State (Mississippians from all wars), North Dakota, Arkansas, Clemson (World War II), and Wyoming. Because of what, or who, these stadiums represent, some ethical questions have been raised when a name change is suggested.
When it was initially proposed that Memorial Stadium at Texas take on the name of legendary coach Darrell Royal there was some opposition. As big a name as Royal is, is he more important than the 198,520 Texas veterans of World War I?
Texas handled it as well as it could. In the same year (1996) that the 1924 stadium was renamed Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the school held a Veterans’ Recognition Day to “insure (sic) the memory of those who fought valiantly to preserve freedom.”
Florida, on the other hand, sold out to money.
Florida Field was dedicated to the memory of World War I veterans in October 1934, four years after it was built.
But in 1989, the stadium’s name was changed to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field to honor a longtime Gator benefactor.
The school encourages the media to use Griffin Stadium as the name of the home of Gators. Many of the old-timers refuse and for tradition’s sake call the venue Florida Field.
The name change has added significance now. A booster has no business being considered more important than war veterans, no matter how much money he has given.
Neither does a Chicago-based Fortune 500 company.
Perhaps we had forgotten that until Sept. 11.