ESPN's Keith Olbermann does not agree with Syracuse restoring 44 to the football program. Or at least that’s what one of his latest rants is about.
In this case, the day after Syracuse restored the famed jersey, Olbermann ripped the university and the football program for the move. Here is what he had to say during his television show “Olbermann.”
”They will be unretiring the number 44 which was retired to honor Brown and Davis and Little 10 years ago,” Olbermann said. “And a committee will get to decide which special Syracuse player will get to wear it in the future. Unretire a number. Unretire Jim Brown’s number. Jim Brown, who put Syracuse on the map as a sports program. Unretire Ernie Davis’ number. The first African-American to win the Heisman who after being the first pick in the 1962 NFL Draft died of Leukemia before he ever had a chance to play a pro game and remains one of the most heartbreakingly tragic stories in all of sports history.
”Syracuse’s interim AD swears this is being done with the blessing of Brown and Little. But you’re unretiring the uniform and give it to somebody else. Like you used to until 2005. After Ernie Davis graduated, you gave it to Floyd Little and then a decreasingly talented group of eight other guys because you thought that was the right way to honor Brown and remember Davis and it wasn’t. So now you’re unretiring the retired number of Jim Brown and Ernie Davis because men like that and symbols like that grow on trees. And you’re bound to get six or seven of them every year in your recruiting class and the choice of which one of them gets to wear the unretired 44 will be a tough one indeed. This is nonsense.”
Why is this nonsense? The legends of Jim Brown, Floyd Little and Ernie Davis are certainly well documented. But couldn’t it be argued that their legacy was collecting dust hanging in the rafters of the Carrier Dome and was becoming forgotten more and more with each generation at least on a national scale?
Before 2005, was Olbermann clamoring for it to be retired? Was anyone?
Now, everyone is talking about those three and what they meant to both Syracuse and the game of football. That is a very, very good thing.
When 44 is worn again, every broadcast of a Syracuse football game will discuss it and its history including those three legendary figures. That is also a good thing.
Bringing it back does not disrespect any of them, despite Olbermann’s suggestion that it does. In fact, it honors them. Especially when, yes Keith, those famous players that wore the number were in favor of its restoration.
”We actually talked to Jim Brown on the phone, Floyd Little and I,” interim A.D. Pete Sala said on Tuesday. “He was so supportive of the idea. I think a lot of the conversation focused on tradition and what we need to do to restore tradition to the program.”
Sala and Little did not make up speaking to Brown about the number, despite Olbermann’s seeming implication that they did. If they did, don’t you think by now the outspoken Brown would have publicly expressed his opposition?
So if Brown and Little, two of the three that made the number what it has become, are not only OK with its restoration but are in full support of it, how can Olbermann, or anyone, be offended on their behalf? What gives him the right to be offended for them if they are not in fact offended or do not feel disrespected?
To his next point, no one is saying players like Brown, Davis and Little grow on trees. In fact, it is because they do not that the jersey is not worn every year. It is worn on rare occasions by players deemed worthy of it as was expressed during Tuesday’s announcement and clarified with Kevin Quinn’s comments on Wednesday.
Some have panned out, some have not. But none of the past players to wear it and not quite live up to its legacy diminished the status of the trio of Syracuse greats. Nor will any future players who may not pan out diminish their legacy. Olbermann ignores this part of the debate.
”It keeps the legacy alive,” Little said. “One of the things you have to understand is, the number 44 at Syracuse University is synonymous with their success. To have that gone and to have that tradition not available, it makes it difficult.
”I like to think that going forward, there will be people that know and remember who we were. The first number 44’s and someone would want to be a part of that.”
Exactly right Floyd. That is the perspective that Olbermann fails to grasp in his rant. The number was already given to others, none of which, despite some being good football players, lived up to what those three were. And that’s OK. It still means something when you see it on the field and does not, in any way, disrespect their legacy.
So was Tuesday’s announcement that 44 is back nonsense? Not even close. It was a good thing for Syracuse football, Syracuse University, recruiting and honoring the legends that made the number famous. What did qualify as nonsense, however, was Olbermann’s rant.