When we raise a statue, we say to future generations, “Here are the best of our values, embodied.” To Hoosiers, I guess that means Peyton Manning.
Here’s the situation: You and I are on the game show Pyramid. It’s the last question of the Winner’s Circle, and in order to win $25,000 you have to guess the subject of this article from the list of names that I’m going to give you.
Your palms are sweaty as I begin the final clue.
“Peter The Great.”
You lean forward in your chair with anticipation.
“People Who Are Emperors!”, you splurt out.
Nice try, but I shake my head and keep going.
“Venus de Milo.”
Your eyes widen and your arms shoot forward, pleading for the right answer.
“People From Antiquity!”, you shout this time.
Again, no. I pause for a split second and calmly take a different approach.
Three seconds… two seconds… one second. Then, revelation.
“People With Their Own Statues!”, you cry in anxious excitement just before the timer expires.
Confetti falls. Your face is glued with a dumb look of shock, as if you just saw a Rolex fall into a Port-A-John. A smiling Donny Osmond runs onto the stage, his perfectly white teeth gleaming in the studio lights. Just as he opens his mouth to congratulate you, the alarm clock rings.
As you groggily hit the snooze button, you think to yourself, “Wow, what a strange dream. I didn’t even know that Peyton Manning had a statue.”
Well, technically, he doesn’t — at least not yet. But his likeness soon will be set in stone because the Indianapolis Colts have announced plans to erect a statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium that will honor their former quarterback for a long time to come. I just hope the whole thing goes better for him than it did for Joe Paterno.
Now, sometimes my brain works in a funny way — which is to say, in a cynical way — and I have difficulty getting behind what everyone else in the world seems to think is a no-brainer. This may be because I was dropped on my head as a boy, or it could have something to do with my disillusion over having failed my Dianetics test. Either way, I’m skeptical about this statue.
My belief is that statues are about two things: 1. Permanence, and 2. Transcendence — which is just a high-brow way of saying “things that last a long time” and “things more important than you and me”. That’s why statues have long been created to represent abstract ideals or people who represent those ideals.
Thus, the Sailor’s and Soldier’s Monument in Indianapolis’ Monument Circle, erected in 1888 in honor of the state’s Civil War veterans, is crowned by a woman named Victory, who carries “a symbolic sword representing victory, a torch that signifies ‘the light of civilization’, and an eagle, a symbol of freedom”. These were once the great dreams of Indiana.
The statues surrounding the Monument are of men who epitomized those ideals with their lives. Years from now, young Hoosier school children will come downtown and see the bronzed forms of great Indiana leaders like George Rogers Clark, frontiersman and hero of the American Revolution; William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States and winner of the Battle of Tippecanoe; James Whitcomb, state governor during the Mexican-American War and U.S senator; and Oliver P. Morton, state governor during the Civil War.
Then, if they travel five blocks south, they will see in mid-throw the towering figure of Peyton Manning, two-time Super Bowl winner (XLI and 50) and five-time NFL MVP, a great man once among us. By then, Victory will have acquired a new meaning in the Circle City.
I can’t help but feel a little cynical that in Indianapolis — at least in the realm of public art — a football player will now be on par with an American president. I don’t know who is funding the Manning statue, but the stadium where it will sit is owned by the State of Indiana and was paid for with tax dollars ($620 million), so in some way, the sculpture will be a civic monument, not just a private collector’s commissioned work.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed watching Manning play football as much as the next guy. He seems like a model citizen and I don’t doubt he philanthropically benefited Indy. The Colts should certainly retire his number and name something in the organization after him, like a grandstand, the way English soccer teams do.
But at the end of the day, Manning was a football player. I’m sorry if I sound cynical for wondering if entertainers are the only Americans left worth immortalizing. Do we have no other heroes left? Or do you remember a statue raised to a non-athlete recently?
Statues represent the men and women whose lives and work have not only shaped our present, but also our future. When we raise a statue, especially a civic one, we essentially say to future generations, “Here are the best of our values, embodied. Here is what we think is worth remembering after we’re gone.” In Indianapolis, apparently, that is Peyton Manning.
With no offense to Manning and his brilliant sports career, has he really altered the course of Indiana history that much in order to justify a statue that sits on public property? And are athletes like him really the ones we want to raise monuments to for posterity to remember? Is achieving Super Bowl victory the value we want our great-great grandchildren to look to as a blueprint for how to build a just society? Is Peyton Manning to be their future?
Don’t look now, but I think he already is.