Radley: It’s past time to honour Russ Jackson

Early in April, the City of Los Angeles named a street after Dodgers’ play-by-play legend Vin Scully. A couple of weeks ago, tennis legend Roger Federer returned to his hometown in Switzerland to receive the same honour. Three days later, the hometown of New York Jets’ head coach Todd Bowles named a football field after him.

It goes on. Within the past few months, various cities and towns around North America have renamed streets after funk band Kool And The Gang, a deceased basketball player, a comic book artist, a university athletic director and even a funeral director. Honouring greatness in whatever form is obviously widely seen as an attractive and valuable thing.

So could someone please explain how Hamilton has still failed to do anything to recognize Russ Jackson?

Don’t bother trying to argue that he doesn’t warrant it. The Westdale and McMaster grad is only universally seen as the greatest homegrown player in Canadian Football League history. Three times he was chosen as the league’s most-outstanding player, three times he won the Grey Cup and four times he was most-outstanding Canadian. Check the record books and 46 years after his final game, you’ll still find his name.

You could actually make a compelling case that he’s the best athlete this city ever produced.

He was so great that he’s been inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame. He’s an officer of the Order of Canada, had a stamp made in his image and his No. 12 has been retired in Ottawa where he starred.

In a CFL town, that stuff matters.

Don’t say he was just a jock and we don’t need to honour any more athletes, either. After his playing career was done, he went on to a long, distinguished career in education which helps explain why Canadian university football gives out the Russ Jackson Award every year to a student who combines greatness on the field with academics and good citizenship.

And please do not suggest this is an oversight. We’re past that.

An oversight would mean nobody had realized he’d been overlooked. This lack of appropriate recognition was pointed out in this space just about a year ago. The resulting action from city staff and from council? Crickets.

“Nobody ever contacted me,” Jackson admits.

This can only mean some don’t think he’s earned it. Or perhaps that the folks who make these decisions are waiting for him to pass away before taking the step.

Hopefully that’s not the case. He’s 79 now and in good health. If he’s going to eventually get an honour like this, let’s do it now while he can still enjoy it.

It’s important. We need to put a spotlight on our legends and heroes. The renaming of North Wentworth Arena after hockey star Harry Howell a while back was terrific. The recent idea to immortalize Martin Short and Eugene Levy is outstanding. Keep the ideas coming. For heroes from all walks of life. Sports and otherwise.

One more thing about Jackson, though. Once he retired, he and his wife moved back to Hamilton. Today, you can find him sitting among the folks at Ticats’ games and at various places around town. His career took him to Ottawa for a time but his roots brought him back. When the Marauders were disrespected at the Vanier Cup in Montreal a few years ago, it was Jackson rising to their — and the City of Hamilton’s — defence.

Simply put, the man is one of us.

The city’s Facilities Naming Committee meets for one of its rare sittings on Tuesday. Hopefully his name is already up for consideration since the submission process can potentially be quite time consuming and no citizen is likely to get one in on time if it isn’t. If it hasn’t, perhaps this column could suffice to at least get the ball rolling.

Then again, it was council rather than an individual citizen that suggested Short and Levy. It was council that suggested Howell. It was a councillor who put forward Nathan Cirillo’s name for a dog park renaming. Surely, it can do the right thing and do the same with Jackson.

Here’s another chance for the city to do something great for one its most accomplished, most decorated and most upstanding citizens. It’s time to put his name on a street or a field or a school or something. Anything. Honestly, what could the downside possibly be?

After all, if a city can do it for Kool And The Gang …

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