City of Hamilton continues to drop the ball by failing to honour Russ Jackson

It’s now been 47 years since Russ Jackson took his final snap as the greatest homegrown player in Canadian Football League history. As he walked off the field as Grey Cup champion that day, the United States’ first Vietnam War draft lottery was still weeks from happening and Max Yasgur was still picking up the garbage from Woodstock.

That’s a long time ago, right?

You’d think. Yet it’s still not enough time for the city to figure out how to honour Hamilton’s arguably greatest athlete.

Five months after the city’s Facilities Naming Subcommittee — the group that handles such things and sends suggestions to council for a final vote — enthusiastically endorsed the idea of honouring Jackson in some significant way, it sure looks as though any such move has fallen onto the back burner. The less-generous might say almost through the cracks.

On Monday, at the subcommittee’s first meeting since that decision in May, Jackson’s name appeared nowhere on the agenda except in the minutes. It was even disconcertingly absent from the list of outstanding business items; something that concerned Coun. Judi Partridge.

“I’m always a little bit nervous when I don’t see it documented,” she said.

The explanation offered was that proposed football fields at Mountain Park or Connell Park — in the West 5th and Rymal area — might be ideal but that it’s too early to make a decision yet. Staff is still studying and considering.

Hope so. Regardless, this looks bad. You publicly announce you’re going to honour the man. He expresses how moved he is by the gesture. Then … silence.

For those who need a reminder about whom we’re speaking, Jackson wasn’t just the greatest Canadian in CFL history, though he was that according to a poll of league experts taken a few years ago. When he retired from the game he went on to a long career as a CFL coach, then as a respected teacher and education administrator. With a little radio and TV colour-commentating on the side.

For all this, he’s a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, a charter member of the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, McMaster’s Hall of Fame and the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame. He’s been named to the Order of Canada, has been awarded an honorary doctorate from McMaster and is on Canada’s Walk of Fame. His number has been retired by the Ottawa Redblacks and later this month he’ll — finally — be inducted into the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction.

To top it off, he’s a good guy. Never had anything remotely approaching a scandal. He’s as famous as anyone who’s come from this town and as upstanding as we could ever hope from our representatives.

Perhaps the most telling thing about him is the fact that the Canadian university football player who best combines athletic ability, academic achievement and good citizenship each year receives the Russ Jackson Award. Yet in Hamilton, finding something to name after him apparently matches finding Jimmy Hoffa on the difficulty scale. At least, that’s how it appears.

This is starting to look far-too reminiscent of how the city dealt with Harry Howell. The idea of honouring our best hockey player never really got any traction until the hall of famer’s wife made public the news that he had Alzheimer’s. Ten days later, the Facilities Naming Subcommittee voted unanimously to rename North Wentworth Arena after him.

It’s not the only case study. When former city councillor Bernie Morelli passed away in early 2014, it took one week for council to propose naming a yet-to-be-built community centre after him.

It’s wonderful that the city did these things. It should have done them. But when it did, it proved a point. These things can happen quickly when the motivation is there.

Council asked that something be found for Jackson 215 days ago, which was still decades later than it should’ve happened. Today it’s still not done. And with the infrequency with which this subcommittee meets, it could be another five or six months before anything actually happens. Maybe a year. Maybe two. Who knows?

But hey, what’s the rush? Jackson’s only 80.

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