What do you do when the right thing to do, conflicts with…the right thing to do? This is the dilemma now faced by the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Bears and family of former Bears great Walter Payton. At first, when you hear the idea, it seems like a no-brainer. The Payton Family wishes to have a statue which is currently being sculpted, just outside of historic Soldier Field where Walter Payton spoiled and delighted Bears fans for years.
However, the Park District, which owns Soldier Field, has rebuffed the Payton’s and their supporters. They have done so respectfully, and regretfully—offering to place the statue in any other CPD park, but not at Soldier Field. The problem is that Soldier Field and the park-owned property around it, were dedicated to the memory of our nation’s soldiers. Bears legends like Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Gayle Sayers and George Halas do not have statues outside of Soldier Field for this very reason. There are places commemorating their achievements in the various concourses inside the stadium, but the field, and the park area around the stadium are expressly meant to be a memorial to veterans.
It’s easy to see each side of this issue. That Payton deserves a statue is beyond argument. He does. That it should be at Soldier Field seems to be the fitting location for such a monument. However, if that statue became the focal point for visitors to the stadium, which it surely would, then wouldn’t that be a bit of an insult to the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Seamen and Guardsmen to whom this stadium has been dedicated? Is it right to honor one at the risk of diminishing the honor of many others?
It would be sad to see the statue of Payton go up anywhere else. It would be sad to diminish, in any way, the sacrifices made by those who have honorably served our country. Payton is not a veteran. If he was, perhaps this would be a bit easier. Still, to see his statue at another park, or any other place in Chicago just wouldn’t seem right. Like Michael Jordan’s statue at the United Center, Payton’s statue belongs at the place the Bears call their home. It’s the fitting place.
And so the only solution that seems obvious is this: The Field Museum of Natural History is the neighbor of Soldier Field. Why not place the statue at the outermost limits of the Field Museum property, where fans trekking to Soldier Field will still be able to stop and admire the statue, while the ground that is sacred in it’s dedication to our veteran’s goes untouched? Certainly, Walter Payton is an important piece of Chicago history and in the history of our beloved Bears. He deserves to be placed near the place where he embodied the hard-working, never-quitting attitude of our blue collar city.
Payton’s statue deserves to overlook the place of his triumphs and conquests. Those to whom the stadium was dedicated deserve their respect and admiration. Compromise is the solution. The answer is simple. Time to step up and do the right thing—for both parties, who each, in their own way, are right and just and deserving.