We were driving on Interstate 695 and passed the sign for Unitas Stadium at Towson University. I recalled when the stadium was renamed for Johnny Unitas after he passed away in 2002. Unitas Stadium is the third name this stadium has had. I wondered how long a sports figure’s name is remembered. How many generations will pass before someone says, “Who was Unitas, and why is this stadium named after him?” Taking that thought process one step further, if you don’t have family members or friends who are knowledgeable about sports, do you know – do you even care – who Johnny Unitas was?
I contrast that to people like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Da Vinci, Monet, and Van Gogh – names hardly anyone can escape being acquainted with. These people and their accomplishments are eternal. Their music, art, concepts and philosophies are taught in schools, woven into fiction and non-fiction books, and become snippets in commercials. Their accomplishments in their specific fields are foundations for so many other things. You don’t have to be involved in music to be acquainted with their lullabies, symphonies, or waltzes. You don’t have to be an artist to have seen “Starry Night” on a book cover, t-shirt, or poster. You don’t have to be a philosopher, scientist, or mathematician to know of their theories and discoveries. And think of religious figures. There’s no way to escape knowing the names of people like Jesus, Gautama Buddha, Krishna, Moses, etc.
Circling back to sports, it seems that the sport itself is remembered, but are the names attached to the sports eternal? Do they only become eternal when awards are handed out in their names, foundations are created to continue their good works, or stadiums are named after them? And are sports figures more regionalized and not subject to becoming globally renowned? For example, does anyone in Mumbai know the 1942 Preakness winner and the jockey who rode the horse to fame? Who in Luxembourg might know the stats of the 1963 Football Hall of Famer from the Chicago Bears?
I guess the ultimate question is, what is the driving force behind those whose accomplishments become eternal compared to those who are more generational? It’s about spreading the word, networking, challenging their ideas – and could it be related to the period in which they live? Could it be that as we develop more and more methods of communication – telephone, radio, television, internet, social networks – that there is such a high volume of messaging in so many forms that the important messages may be getting lost in noise? Word of mouth and painstakingly slow written communications of the past meant being persistent if you wanted to get your message out to the masses. Suffering for the sake of your message was not uncommon. These days, we tweet in 140 characters and post blogs that may never be read unless you’ve got a handful of followers. Self-publishing, self-promotion are so easy that anyone can do it. Getting the audience is the difficult part. So when we’re flooded with messages day and night, how do we eliminate the noise, identify and focus on the important messages? How do we know that we’re not missing the art, the music, the philosophy, and the spiritual direction of the people who are supposed to be the next set of eternals?