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Rick Snider: Objections to a Len Bias status go public

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We celebrate great men with monuments and life-changing events with memorials. But in a region with more than 3,000 of them, one for fallen basketball legend Len Bias shouldn't be automatically approved.

A bill for a Bias statue at his alma mater, Northwestern High in Hyattsville, was withdrawn by Maryland state Sen. Victor Ramirez, according to Gazette.net. Another politician objected to honoring someone who died of a drug overdose.

The real objection, however, should come over the use of $50,000 in public funds and a public site. A privately funded statue on private property is fine, but erecting one on school property with tax money requires a much harder debate.

I have no problems with Bias. I covered him in high school and at Maryland before his cocaine-induced death in 1986. He was a great basketball player and a good guy who made a mistake that sadly cost him his life.

Bias' death was the biggest sports story of a generation. Part of that was the shocking suddenness; someone sculpted like a statue dying that way still resonates.

It was hoped Bias' death would keep young people from drugs. For a short time, it probably did, and that's something positive from a tragedy. Today, kids don't know who Bias was except for mentions by their elders.

Maybe a statue at his high school would refresh the warning about drugs for kids. That alone makes the statue worth considering. But given that it would have needed public property and money, it deserves a public debate.

Meanwhile, Maryland will dedicate a statue to Bias' coach, Lefty Driesell, at Comcast Center on April 16. The statue is privately funded, though.

Bias' proponents point to plans for a statue of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Detractors still bring up the 2000 double murder in Atlanta that prosecutors failed to link to Lewis. The team is paying for the statue, so again no public debate is needed.

One statue many Washingtonians would love to export is that of former Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall at RFK Stadium. District lawmakers rejected relocating it farther into the city because Marshall wouldn't sign black players until he was forced to in return for using the stadium in 1961. The Redskins rejected RFK's offer to send the statue to FedEx Field when the team moved there in 1997.

For a city that loves statues, there are surprisingly few sports figures in bronze. Statues are meant for immortals such as Josh Gibson, Walter Johnson and Frank Howard at Nationals Park.

If anyone deserves a statue, it's the late Abe Pollin at Verizon Center. The Wizards and Capitals owner revitalized downtown by building an arena with his own money and was an amazing philanthropist. But that comes down to successor Ted Leonsis paying for a statue and putting it on Verizon property.

A statue for Bias? It's a good idea that should be fully discussed first.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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