As a columnist, you don’t always know what messages will float out into the abyss, never to be seen or heard from again, and which ones might ignite a spark of interest — or even action.
I always appreciate the feedback I receive from readers. Even the inflammatory, not-so-constructive criticism can be good for a laugh or two.
Depending on the day, my goal may be to enlighten and entertain, to maybe try to tickle the reader’s funny bone. Other times I seek to inform, to share interesting stories about athletes and teams, often focused on the Central Texas area. Pointed criticism is occasionally necessary.
And then sometimes I’ll just throw an idea out in hopes of starting a conversation.
Last week, I wrote a column — penned as an open letter to Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver and the members of the Waco City Council — about the idea of renaming a Waco street in honor of former football star LaDainian Tomlinson. Since then, I’ve had all manner of interesting conversations, and it’s my view that wheels are beginning to turn, that momentum is starting to form.
The day the column ran, I received a phone call from Joe Phipps, owner of Phipps Memorial in Waco. Joe offered to create a monument honoring LT that could potentially be placed somewhere at University High School.
He asked if I’d be willing to write the text for the monument. Would I? Sure, love to. There are still logistical details that must be figured out, not the least of which would be Waco ISD’s approval, but I’m hopeful that the project will eventually see its way to completion.
I also received word from friends of LaDainian that someone had forwarded my commentary on to him, and that he was touched. Of course, he’s had that same gracious reaction whenever his hometown has reached out to recognize him — as was the case when he gained induction into the Waco ISD Athletic Hall of Fame, the Texas High School Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, all located in Waco.
“Especially because I’m built from the very fabric of that town,” said Tomlinson in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “I’m truly a Central Texas kid. I was born and raised within a 30-mile radius of Central Texas, and it means a lot. This is the birthplace of my family, the heart of my family, and anytime they honor you, it’s very special, very moving. It makes you think that the sacrifice that you went through, those grueling days of dedication to try to reach the pinnacle, it makes you believe that it was all worth it.”
I also had a nice chat with Mayor Deaver on Wednesday, who called the street renaming proposal “an interesting idea.”
Deaver said he has not yet spoken with members of the City Council about the idea — “And this would be a decision for the Council, not just for me,” he said — but he added that he couldn’t imagine a lot of brush-back for some sort of city-driven endeavor to honor LT.
“I haven’t met him personally, but everything you hear about him, about how he gives back, on top of his accomplishments, and being from Waco, playing at University High School, being inducted (into the Pro Football Hall of Fame) on the first ballot, you don’t get a chance to honor people like that too often,” Deaver said. “I think you were dead on with the column. … I think we need to take a hard look at how we can honor him, because he’s been such a great ambassador for the city and someone that you’re just proud that he’s from Waco.”
Deaver said he wasn’t familiar with all the guidelines for renaming a city street for an individual. “It seems that many times we wait for someone to be deceased before we honor them in such a way,” he said. “I don’t think that’s written into our policy, and if it is it’s something we need to examine.”
(Tomlinson himself mentioned that when University High School’s current campus was being built, he received word that school district officials were considering naming the school’s athletic complex after him. He later found out that it didn’t happen because he hadn’t died yet.)
Of course, there are myriad other ways that the city could recognize Tomlinson’s contributions than re-painting a street sign.
That includes possibly naming a newly developed street after LT, something that Deaver noted could be an option.
Such projects don’t materialize overnight.
I certainly recognize that. But it’s inspiring to see that momentum is beginning to build for a tribute (or multiple tributes) to LT in his hometown.
Because he deserves it.
And not because he scored a lot of touchdowns. That unique athletic ability gave LT a platform, and it’s what led him to the Hall of Fame, for sure. But he has consistently used that platform to try to better society, often by building up the youth.
To me, that’s even cooler than all his rushing yards and end-zone visits.
LT has a running back’s soul.
Ask a running back about the touchdown, and he will instinctively prattle on about the “guys up front,” those offensive linemen who paved the way for that TD. It becomes a reflex.
With Tomlinson, it was never an act, though. His generosity of spirit is absolutely genuine. If Waco did choose to honor him with a street or a sign or a statue or a monument or, heck, a water tower, LT wouldn’t be the guy to thump his chest about it.
He’d show up — and he’d say thanks.
“I came from humble beginnings,” Tomlinson said. “I’ve never said that it was about me. That’s the way I feel in my heart, the way I view my country. … That’s honestly the message I hope people remember years later, after I’m gone.”