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Honor the man, not the program

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 11, 2009 7:17 AM

On Tuesday night, the City of Coralville issued a proclamation co-naming First Avenue as Hayden Fry Way. The new street signs will be unveiled in September before Iowa’s first home football game at the first Fry Fest. While the ceremonial street name aims to honor the legendary Iowa football coach’s accomplishments, the festival, according to the city of Coralville website, is a “celebration of the Hawkeyes.”

Even the most fair-weather Iowa fans would be forced to acknowledge the momentous effect of Coach Fry on Iowa sports. The Iowa football program suffered through 17 non-winning seasons before Fry was hired. He also designed the now famous TigerHawk logo. In Fry’s 20-year tenure, he led the Hawkeyes to three Big Ten titles and 14 bowl games, including three Rose Bowls.

Outside the walls of Kinnick Stadium, his character shone as well; Fry served his country as a Marine in the Korean War. He integrated the Southwest Conference in 1966, when he offered Jerry LeVias a scholarship to play at Southern Methodist University. He is a cancer survivor. After retiring he has toured the country in aid of cancer research, leading the UI Hospitals and Clinics to name the “J. Hayden Fry Center for Prostate Cancer” in his honor.

Aside from the recent, and now nationally infamous, “pink locker room” clamor, one is hard-pressed to find any negative events or stories attached to Fry’s legacy. Certainly there are a myriad of reasons to co-name, or even name, a street in Fry’s honor in the Iowa City/Coralville area. There are no objections here for the premise that he deserves recognition for his strong character and the economic benefits from a strong football program that the area still reaps 10 years after his retirement.

However, underlying the ceremony and the forthcoming annual Fry Fest is an unhealthy obsession in the local community. Iowa football is more than a program or a group of student-athletes playing a game; it is a religion.

Hawkeye football is god in much of the state, Kinnick Stadium, the altar, and Hayden Fry Way will be the ceremonial promenade by which millions of pilgrims will flock to pay tribute to their autumnal deity. Every Saturday during a home game, tens of thousands of Iowa fans swarm the Hawkeye mecca to pay tribute to their idols. Followers adorn themselves in specifically colored garments and flock en masse to their brick temple on Melrose Avenue. Our thirst for victory is insatiable; Iowa football players are treated more like modern-day gladiators than students.

And yet, it is this same unhealthy obsession with Hawkeye football that will help the Iowa City/Coralville economy next September. The Hayden Fry Way ceremony and Fry Fest 2009, both of which are free and open to the public, will help dozens of local businesses recover from last year’s flood by spending money on Hawkeye apparel and other merchandise. With the pending threat of yet another flood this year, Fry Fest may be just what small businesses need to keep their doors open for another year. Is the religion of football a necessary evil for the local economy? Probably. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the absurdity of our actions — be it the color of a locker room or the amount of alcohol we imbibe — just because Iowa football is involved.

In the end, Hayden Fry Way is being described as an honor for the victories and trophies Fry gave us, not for his sacrifice to our country or for breaking ethnic barriers. Fry is a man worth honoring, but is he being honored for the right reason? When an out-of-towner or a new student on campus asks “Who is Hayden Fry?” What will you respond with? His character and personal accomplishments, or the number of victories he brought us. Hopefully, it’s the former.


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