Maryland’s Ethics Dunce State Senator, Len Bias, And Statue Ethics

The late Len Bias. No hero he.

The late Len Bias. No hero he.

Maryland State Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s County) has introduced a bill to designate state funds to erect a statue of Len Bias, a former University of Maryland basketball star, at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md. Bias, a graduate of the school, died in 1986 of cocaine intoxication less than two days after he was drafted s by the NBA’s Boston Celtics, shocking the area and the nation. Ramirez’s efforts, as well as a recent decision to name another local high school after President Obama, is causing the Prince George’s County Education Board to revise and formalize its policy for such honors as statues and building names. Will an African-American kid who cut off his promising life as it was just beginning with a self-administered drug overdose be deemed worthy of immortalization, to serve as inspiration for future generations of black youth? Stay tuned.

The Stupid is strong in this one...

“Len Bias was a student athlete in Prince George’s,” Sen. Ramirez argues. “He moved the University of Maryland basketball program to new heights. He and Michael Jordan were the two best college players at that time, until he tragically died. . . . We can learn something from everything. The nation learned a lot from this unfortunate incident.” Well, if learning “a lot” from someone’s demise is the criteria for honoring them with a heroic statue, that opens up all kinds of possibilities. Good thinking, Senator! A statue of Richard Nixon reminds us that power corrupts, certainly a valuable lesson for all. A statue of Benedict Arnold teaches us the dangers of pride, and how a sense of entitlement can lead to tragic choices. And what could be more illuminating than a statue of Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter? Maybe even one showing him mowing down those kids—such a powerful statement about gun abuse, and the failures of the mental health system! In fact, what would really be appropriate is naming a public school after him.

By the end of his life, Len Bias was no hero or role model, and he deserves no honor for knowingly breaking drug laws and getting himself killed while disappointing legions of fans and supporters. Erecting a statue to Bias would be just one more step in society’s capitulation to the seductive, and destructive, appeal of the drug culture, and the elimination of the vitally important societal stigma attached to recreational drug use. What Bias did was willful, ignorant, irresponsible and illegal, and even if that last is removed for his young admirers, the first three remain.

The County Board of Education is now going to debate the appropriateness of making a hero out of a  drug abuser and a 21 year old cocaine casualty. If they have to discuss it to answer that question, they all need to be replaced, not that the pathetic performance of their schools isn’t reason enough for that. Len Bias’s death wasn’t “a tragic incident.” A car crash is a tragic incident. Bias died because, like so many young people in Prince George’s County and elsewhere, he deliberately engaged in dangerous conduct that he knew was forbidden, and learned, the hard way, why.

Placing a triumphal statue in front of a high school is no way to discourage deadly attitudes like the one that got Bias killed…unless the design of the proposed statue shows the young man at the exact moment his heart seized and his eyes rolled back in his head.


Facts and Graphic: Washington Post

Source: The Nation

20 thoughts on “Maryland’s Ethics Dunce State Senator, Len Bias, And Statue Ethics

  1. A statue of Benedict Arnold teaches us the dangers of pride, and how a sense of entitlement can lead to tragic choices.

    Actually, the historical research that Kenneth Roberts put into his historical novels makes it far more likely that Benedict Arnold was always acting according to his judgment of what was best for his country, and that when the rebels invited the French in he thought that was the equivalent of the fable of the sheep asking for the wolf’s aid against the fox, so he changed his mind about what to do. Pride only entered into it in that he valued his own judgment highest.

      • I think your (pretty much accurate) notion is more believable – it’s more feasible, consistent and logical. How did you come up with that one?

        I suppose novels could be reliable sources. It’s an intriguing straw grasp… I mean it only makes sense to fight against the enemy of your liberty and then decide, “hey, these guys who deny us representative voice in our own government and have prosecuted a rough war against my people aren’t all that bad now that I know those wretched Frenchmen have promised us the very military aid we need to finish this victoriously.”

          • Did anyone find it a surprise that a theory resting on Francophobia, the idea that a true patriot could not sincerely believe that the enemy of his enemy might actually not be a lesser evil after all, was misrepresented as Anglophilic by texagg04?

        • I think your (pretty much accurate) notion is more believable – it’s more feasible, consistent and logical.

          No, it’s just as consistent (though no more), but it’s actually less feasible and logical. Most people who have sacrificed for a cause have so much emotional investment that they can only change if they can somehow represent that to themselves as fulfilling the cause. Grounding it solely in rejection and emotional vanity only makes sense to those who have grown up accepting that theory, even if those did play a part.

          I suppose novels could be reliable sources.

          Read that again. The source wasn’t the novels, it was the historical research the author did to back them up; he often presents an overview of that in the introductions etc. And I did take the trouble to check some other related stuff too, once I had had my attention drawn to the issues. For instance, the rebels all had before them the example of French intervention in the Corsican liberation struggle against Genoa, about ten years earlier: the French ended up buying out the Genoese interests and taking over themselves. Note the word “promised” in your “… these guys who deny us representative voice in our own government and have prosecuted a rough war against my people aren’t all that bad now that I know those wretched Frenchmen have promised [emphasis added] us the very military aid we need to finish this victoriously”, and remember that the Corsicans did indeed get victory over Genoa, at any rate a negotiated one. They just didn’t get freedom from outside rule, which is still the case down to this very day. (That wasn’t an isolated case of a French takeover, either, just one that clearly brings out interactions with a liberation struggle against yet another.)

          • You forget that this particular cause was deeply conflicting for everyone involved. A former British subject changing sides after becoming disillusioned with his prospects in the new order of rebels—especially ones likely to lose— is not like an American soldier defecting to the Japanese in WW II. I think the theory you cite is popular with those who want to think the best of Arnold, rather than view him as a peevish egotist who decided to try to make sure he was on the winning side.

            This makes much more sense to me.

            • You forget that this particular cause was deeply conflicting for everyone involved.

              I don’t forget that; that is precisely what I am taking into account in the issue of emotional investment.

              … view him as a peevish egotist who decided to try to make sure he was on the winning side. This makes much more sense to me.

              I did consider that, since it does seem to match received opinion. The trouble is it doesn’t fit the facts. French intervention was known to be a game changer that made eventual British defeat more likely than not, when without that British victory was only ever a matter a of time. For your theory to fit, Arnold would have has to switch sides much earlier, right when he was first mistreated by the rebels. Your theory is of a rat joining a sinking ship.

      • Sorry, my comment of November 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm was directed at JM but didn’t line up well. Here it is again:-

        See my remarks below [it seems to be above – sorry] about emotional investment in sacrifice. Although that motive may well have been present, it would almost certainly have taken a lot more to make a difference. (And no, bribery isn’t enough, as the bribee still has to find a way to feel right with himself.)

  2. Good post, Jack.

    But you do realize this will goad a long line of hero haters who will now inform you that we have statues of slave owners and rebels and otherwise imperfect men?

    • Major General Benedict Arnold was one of America’s most capable front line commanders, as he proved on a number of occasions. All that went out the window when (likely on the urging of his Tory wife) he conspired with a British agent (Major John Andre) to allow the seizure of the vital fortress of West Point. Had this plot succeeded, the British would have effectively cut New England off from the rest of the country. When Andre was captured by Continental soldiers with the incriminating letters in his boot, Arnold fled to the British lines and became a British officer. In that capacity, he led raids against his own countrymen. He died in London, lonely and repentant. Repentance, however, does not obviate a monstrous act of treason. It should be noted that Washington offered to exchange Major Andre for Arnold. The offer was rejected… and Andre was hanged for espionage. He’s buried in Westminster… and Arnold in a old London churchyard. I’ve seen both graves, BTW.

      • What treason? Remember the definitions; treason is defined as betraying a special duty (e.g., a wife murdering her husband was “petty treason”). What Arnold did to the rebels was betrayal, perhaps treachery if we define that loosely, but not treason, there being no recognised sovereignty there at that time as seen from where he was (that only came along in 1783), and of course the principle that “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands” means that no rebel ever had standing to claim his allegiance. By the same token, he no more raided his own countrymen after he changed sides than he did before (and no less, but you still shouldn’t make out that it represented a change of kind). As for repentant as opposed to regretting failure, where do you get that? I have heard (though I cannot cite references off the top of my head) that he was one of the last British commanders recommending a continuation of operations in the North American theatre, advocating a system of amphibious operations and excursions from fortified bases to erode rebel capabilities over time to the point where the rebels could be pushed away from the coasts and resupply by allies (pretty much what had already been done in Ireland).

        For what it’s worth, I have seen it plausibly suggested that Arnold only switched sides on hearing that the French were coming in, from fear that the French would be a worse evil (as they had indeed been to the Corsican freedom fighters in their struggle against the Genoese occupiers of Corsica, not many years earlier). There was a fable well known at the time that covered the case, of the sheep which made a bear their king in order to be protected against the wolf, which had unhappy results. That would mean that he was acting in what he sincerely considered the colonists’ best interests.

  3. Mr. Marshall
    I agree. We should not immortalize an individual whose major accomplishments were confined to a field of play. Monuments are designed to serve as a remembrance of the past deeds or sacrifices that allowed our society to grow.

    I would not have a problem honoring a sports hero such as Jackie Robinson that endured great trials and tribulations to play a child’s game. His perseverance changed attitudes toward equality across all socio-economic levels. Mr. Bias did non of that – nor might I add did Babe Ruth. I find it hard to believe that Northwestern High or Prince George’s county never had another more suitable graduate who went on to do truly great thing to serve as a role model.

    If I recall correctly, the Viet Nam Memorial was constructed using private funding. If a private group wants to raise the funds to erect a statue that’s fine but in the case of Len Bias they should also provide the location that reflects the true context of what killed him.

    • What? “We should not immortalize an individual whose major accomplishments were confined to a field of play.” I didn’t say that, nor do I believe it. In the same state,a high school is named after Walter Johnson, the great pitcher. He was an exemplary role model and a model citizen as well, who exemplified sportsmanship. Athletes are professional heroes, and when they meet that high standard, they are certainly appropriate to honor.

      I said we shouldn’t immortalize an individual who brought his life to a crashing end when all he needed to do to live was obey the law.

  4. I’ve never heard of this kid, so I am wondering if high schoolers DO need to reminded in some dramatic way just how destructive drugs can be. I agree that a statue absolutely is the wrong vehicle because that is honoring the child. We don’t want to honor him, we want kids to learn the obvious lesson from that event. And that lesson has to be conveyed in a way that doesn’t make the kids roll their eyes and tune out, like a pamphlet or after-school special. Any educators on this site who may have ideas?

    • The post commander of Fort Bragg pulled some strings and obtained the blood curdling wreckages of cars after fatal drunk driving accidents. Placards were posted indicating number of casualties. There were a dozen or so of these around the post. Pretty graphic and attention grabbing. I don’t think drunk driving was reduced.

      Educators will not fix this. This is a cultural thing and it starts with the parents.

  5. Usually if I read something here and it is a topic I don’t know a lot about, I will do further reading on it.

    There is actually a Len Bias Law.
    Allowing more severe punishment for drug distribution.
    Some people think that law is unfair because it targets more black men.

    It’s too bad this story isn’t used as more of an example of what not to do.
    One day you get the world handed to you and the next night you go out and do drugs like some hoodrat.
    Not a very smart decision.

    • I think it’s pretty hard to convince kids who do drugs frequently and don’t die that at some point they could die. Kids aren’t using cocaine these days anyway. The problem with many drug programs aimed at kids is that in many cases the programs truly provide “drug awareness” for kids who are already doing drugs by educating them on drugs they had not even known about or even household items that can be used to produce a high.

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