Twenty-seven years after his tragic death as a result of a cocaine overdose, ex-Maryland all-American Len Bias remains a polarizing figure.
Some remember Bias as the kind-hearted yet competitive basketball prodigy who showed Washington D.C.-area youths they can achieve their dreams by starring at Maryland and being selected second overall by the Boston Celtics. Others remember Bias as the ultra-talented player who turned to drugs, squandered his natural gifts and died less than 24 hours after he was drafted.
Those conflicting images of Bias are responsible for the debate that erupted this week at the Maryland high school the late basketball star attended.
According to the Washington Post, Maryland state senator Victor Ramirez has withdrawn his proposal to build a statue of Bias at Northwestern High School due to concerns over the message it would send to students. Erecting the statue would have required $50,000 in public funds to cover the costs.
Ramirez, also a Northwestern graduate, made the proposal because he feels Bias still is a positive role model for students in the area.
“I grew up with a Len Bias poster in my room,” Ramirez told the Post. “He represented someone who could make it. He was one of us.
"I think it was a tragedy, but you can’t allow that one night to take away from who he was, what he stood for. I think he stood for giving people hope and giving kids who grew up in the neighborhood just like his hope that education, the University of Maryland — that college was possible."
At the time of Bias' passing, there's no doubt he was a role model and a symbol of hope to many kids in his neighborhood. Skim through the Post's 1986 coverage of his death, and you'll find numerous anecdotes corroborating that.
Nonetheless, the points made by critics are valid too.
Fifty thousand dollars in public funds could surely buy a lot of books or computers for students to use in the classroom. And perhaps instead of a statue, maybe the school could commission a mural of Bias that includes a plaque telling his tragic story and hammering home the message of what dabbling with drugs can cost you.
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