SBD/February 16, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Stan Musial, Bill Russell Among Recipients Of Presidential Medal of Freedom

Musial (c), Russell (r) among 15 honorees
presented Presidential Medal of Freedom
Baseball HOFer STAN MUSIAL and Pro Basketball HOFer BILL RUSSELL were among 15 people honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by PRESIDENT OBAMA at the White House yesterday. During the introductions of the recipients, Obama said his grandfather was also named Stan so "I used to call him 'The Man' too," referring to Musial's nickname. Obama: "Stan Musial made that brilliance burn for two decades. Stan matched his hustle with humility." Obama said Musial was the "first player to make -- get this -- $100,000." Obama: "Even more shocking, he asked for a pay cut when he didn't perform up to his own expectations. You can imagine that happening today." Obama said of Russell, "More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define the word 'winner.' And yet whenever someone looks up to all 6' 9'' of Bill Russell ... and asks, 'Are you a basketball player?' -- surprisingly he gets this question more than you think -- he says, 'No. That's what I do, that's not what I am.' ... Bill Russell the man is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men" (CNN, 2/15). Obama: "Stan remains, to this day, an icon, untarnished; a beloved pillar of the community; a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate." Musial, who offered "two harmonica concerts" at the White House yesterday, said, "This is the greatest day I had in my life" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/16). Cardinals manager TONY LA RUSSA during Spring Training workouts yesterday sported a special pin on his hat reading, "Medal of Freedom Award" (STLTODAY.com, 2/15). Falcons Owner ARTHUR BLANK was in attendance for the ceremony, supporting U.S. Rep. JOHN LEWIS (D-Ga.), who also received the Medal of Freedom (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 2/16).

FITTING THE BILL: Obama said that he "hopes Boston will build a statue" of Russell, "gently nudging the city to honor one of its greatest sports heroes and acknowledge its history of racial strife." In Boston, Michael Levenson notes "for years" Boston Mayor THOMAS MENINO, Celtics owners, Russell's former teammates and fans "have supported the idea of a statue, but it has never made it past the discussion stages." Menino said that Obama's endorsement "would kick-start efforts to raise the several hundred thousand dollars in private donations needed to build a statue and find an appropriate location, perhaps on Causeway Street in front of the TD Garden" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/16).
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