Names can carry big price
It would be fun to get in a lather yea or nay over Eastern Washington University’s decision to un-name its football facility to recognize the All-America tackle and benefactor who’s the donating force behind reupholstering the Eastern greensward in artificial red.
Fact is, in three decades here, I’ve never heard anyone say they’re headed to a football game at Woodward Field. They’re always “going out to Eastern.” I imagine the same will hold once the joint has Michael Roos’ good name on it.
What’s in a name? In this case, good intentions – but no real sense of identity.
Still, something like this is always a good exercise in examining What Matters to Us, sports division, and rue the inevitability of it being money – whether donated generously as in this instance or coming attached with a corporate agenda.
If there has been no particular hue and cry from the EWU community over the lopping off of the Woodward name, there are a couple of reasons. One, there is never much hue and cry except A) to rage about the officiating in any game played in Missoula, or B) the lack of media attention ? relative to that afforded the neighboring colleges. Two, few knew who the Woodward in question was.
Arthur C. Woodward was the head of EWU’s department of physical education and a champion of intramurals for 27 years before dying of a heart attack in 1950. He was, it seems, a popular figure with students – to the extent that the football field was named for him in 1937, even though his tenure as football coach lasted but two years and produced a 7-8 record.
Maybe that original dedication was a little premature by what standards now exist for such a thing – but it, too, was well-intentioned. As such, EWU athletic director Bill Chaves grappled with painting over a name that’s been on the door for 73 years, and reached out to Woodward’s son Dave, who confessed to “sadness” but acknowledged, “I do understand.”
“I think anyone in my chair would be thoughtful enough to know this is a sensitive matter,” Chaves said. “It’s always been a scenario where some folks may or may not agree with it.”
Perhaps we long ago should have been disabused of the notion that a dedication implies permanence – though if anyone comes after Albi Stadium, I’m organizing a sit-in.
As for what gets named after whom, it’s funny what can rile. Campus buildings are named all the time for the philanthropists who fund them; why are stadiums and arenas a touchier subject?
Actually, Chaves pointed out that EWU has a mix of structures “some dedicated to folks who have invested their lives in the university, some to benefactors and some to people who never graced campus” – i.e., Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse, and the JFK Library.
But more and more, actual greenbacks carry the day over, well, sweat equity. And in the case of Eastern football, no one put in more sweat equity than Dick Zornes.
He took Eastern – sometimes kicking and screaming – into the football world it now knows, hung tough through a crippling budget cut and built it back up again. He won more games than any EWU football coach and sacrificed that job to soldier-up as AD. There’s also no question that his singular vision – and occasionally his manner and temper – could be polarizing, and so would putting his name on the stadium. But let’s be clear: If Eastern was doing the right thing without a dollar figure attached, this would be it.
If Zornes had his druthers, the field would carry the name of Dave Holmes, his mentor. And while Holmes cracked open football’s possibilities in a smaller college era, he was only there five years.
But there was never any discussion of going in those directions – or really any direction until Roos became prominent in the picture.
And in many ways, Roos’ name carries all the proper weight. He is the ultimate example of the overlooked athlete this football program unearths and coaches up, in this case into a premier professional.
And far from being ambivalent about his EWU opportunity, he has demonstrated his gratitude in remarkable fashion, which merits gratitude in return.
Yet it seems that some of these recent gestures – jersey retirements, field dedications – are being done in a bit of hurry relative to the normal pace of athletic fable-making. The motives are all too transparent, and that’s fine – at an EWU, resources must be leveraged. I just hope that, special as he was, Rodney Stuckey Arena is a ways off.
There is also the thought that even a gift of $500,000 is a little cheap to buy a stadium name in this age – although Chaves insisted that’s not what has happened.
“Technically, we’re naming the field after Michael,” he said. “The stadium will not have that name. Down the road, I guess, there’s the possibility of a different stadium name. Who knows what could transpire?”
Ooh. And what might that fetch?
“Whatever the market will bear,” Chaves said.
I just hope before Michael Roos gets the deed to the house, one thing is explained to him: It’s only good for 73 years.