July 8, 2013
There's an old adage that I wish more people would take to heart. "Never name anything after a living person." Period.
Although it may seem that a person is surely headed toward sainthood, as was the case with Penn State's Joe Paterno, in hindsight, it's foolhardy to accept that people don't have skeletons in the closet that could come clattering out onto the floor. Last week, the Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year Award was stripped from Suzy Favor Hamilton, a one-time darling of the Drake Relays. A year ago, it was discovered that Ms. Hamilton was involved in prostitution. The Big Ten obviously did not want to have their name associated with that image, so they removed her name. The Paterno Library on the Penn State campus still bears his name, but the statue worshipping the once-beloved football coach that once stood near the building has been mothballed. No one could have predicted the unbelievable fall from grace that Paterno experienced once allegations of mishandling of the Sandusky case came to light.
A few years back, a beloved Des Moines city council person was honored by his constituents when they named a building in his district after him. A few years later, he was involved with a huge scandal and the building was eventually renamed its original name. I'm sure it was a painful process for all parties involved. No one wants to be involved in a scandal, and no one wants to admit they made a mistake and order new signs for a building. It all could have been avoided by following the simple naming rule: Wait to name anything after a person until they've been dead for a few years. Even then, you never know.
The bottom line? People are fallible. They sometimes make bad decisions. There's a reason it takes years and sometimes decades to be declared a saint. Sometimes, the perspective of history is needed to put a person's life and legacy into context.