Memory Failure in Washington, DC
Some time, in the very near future, there will be an announcement that the city of Washington, D.C. has completed a deal that will give the “naming rights” for the Washington Nationals’ current home to a local corporation perhaps a bank, or a computer company, or, as one wag has suggested, Hooters. Thus, until the baseball team’s new stadium is ready sometime on 2008, it will play in “Blockbuster Park” or “Office Depot Stadium” or “Tastee-Freeze Field.” There have been worse names adorning baseball stadiums around the country ”Petco Park” comes to mind, as well as the former “Enron Field” in Houston. But Washington’s stadium has had a much better name for almost 40 years: Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium. And the decision to erase it for a multi-million dollar pay-off is more than the usual brand of local government greed. It is a demonstration of disrespect and ingratitude, as well as a disservice to future generations who won’t know who Bobby Kennedy was and will have nothing to provoke them to ask.
As House Republicans continue to look for new ways to preserve the memory of Ronald Reagan in the nation’s Capital, now seeking to name a street after him in addition to an airport and one of the largest government buildings outside of Capitol Hill, the Democratic government of the District is willing to toss away the honor it bestowed on the brother of the late President John F. Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy, a U.S. Senator himself (from New York) when he was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan just as it appeared that he might be on the way to getting the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. Robert Kennedy was an inspirational civil rights advocate and a beacon of hope for young Americans, who he urged to become politically active and to strive to make a difference. After Kennedy was killed in 1968, the same horrible year that saw the assassination of Martin Luthor King, the District named its new stadium after him as a memorial and an honor for a great American. Like all memorials, as the name implies, RFK Stadium was meant to keep alive the memory of a citizen who stood for something important, so that memory would help preserve the values that he embodied in life. Memorials are supposed to last forever, or at least until the sands of time turn them to dust. They are not supposed to be disposable honors that will be erased as soon as some rich corporation can afford to buy “naming rights.”
Surely there are buyers out there who would love to put the corporate logo on the Washington monument or the Viet Nam memorial. Why stop with RFK? For what the city of Washington, our nation’s capital, is saying with its cash-bought disrespect of an American martyr is that values don’t matter as much as dollars. Heroism, idealism, courage and compassion don’t guarantee this nation’s gratitude or remembrance as long as there’s a buck to be made. A memorial once intended to inspire our youth to fight for justice is about to be discarded to create a memorial to marketing, advertising, rising stock prices, and consumerism.
But 21st century America doesn’t need another reminder of those values; they are all around us. It does need to be reminded of the values that Bobby Kennedy lived and died for, and yes, it is well worth the loss of a few million dollars to preserve that memory. If we do, perhaps those values won’t live only in memory, but will continue to be a part of our nation’s character.