Leonard “Len” Bias was more than just a talented college basketball player; for many, he was a symbol of overcoming the odds — a University of Maryland, College Park, athlete from humble beginnings who went on to be picked second in the 1986 NBA draft.
His death from a cocaine overdose that same year tainted his image, but the unbelievable talent that earned him the title of Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year two years in a row and the inspiration he brought to many youths was not destroyed — which is why state Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly wanted to use a $50,000 state bond bill to erect a statue of the athlete at Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School, Bias’ alma mater.
Understandably, some residents opposed the proposal. Mount Rainier Mayor Malinda Miles cited the conflicting message that comes with glorifying an athlete who died from a drug overdose and pointed out that state funds could be better spent on some of the struggling school system’s other needs.
Yes, Bias gave encouragement to many youths, including Ramirez (also a Northwestern graduate), who recalls growing up with a poster of the athlete in his room. And, yes, everyone makes mistakes, so it’s logical that some would want to downplay Bias’ fatal decision.
But Prince George’s students need the bar set high. In a county where six students have been killed so far this school year, where state test scores rank at or near the bottom, where education resources are stretched and a former schools superintendent was sent to prison for corruption, it’s even more important to put the best possible role models at the forefront.
The statue proposal is akin to the recent fiasco when the county’s Democratic Central Committee nominated Greg Hall, who was convicted of a misdemeanor gun charge in the early 1990s but is now a businessman active in the community, to succeed a state delegate who had to leave office after pleading no contest to misusing campaign funds. Hall’s turnaround was laudable, but the timing of his nomination was all wrong in a county recovering from a wave of corrupt leaders.
Acknowledging the good and bad in a public figure is commendable; it shows everyone has faults that can be overshadowed by the greater good they do. But spending thousands of dollars on a controversial statue at a school in a county struggling to improve its image and educational resources simply isn’t the way to go. It’s a good thing Ramirez plans to withdraw his bill for further discussion.
Bias’ talent is truly inspiring and his story is compelling; nothing can take that away.
But there are many other motivating stories in Prince George’s, and they don’t end with a drug overdose. Those are the images the county should focus on first.