Trump presents Medal of Freedom
President Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Iowa wrestler Dan Gable. Image from White House video

Beer commercials and NFL football seem to go hand-in-hand.  Marketing campaigns catering to NFL TV beer drinking viewers have produced some inane but memorable TV commercial moments over the years—those medieval period Bud Light commercials that popularized the silly “Dilly, Dilly” phrase immediately come to mind. 

However, I contend a current football-related Coors Light marketing campaign can actually teach us something about evaluating excellence. This campaign, centered on promoting an NFL great for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reminds us how important it is to maintain high standards when awarding hero status to our fellow citizens.         

Overshadowed by last month’s election count/inauguration/insurrection news has been former President Donald Trump’s controversial awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Republican Congressmen Devin Nunes of California and Jim Jordan of Ohio. These two selections can be easily interpreted as acts of Trumpian defiance—intended to “flip off” his enemies by the awarding of a traditionally prestigious honor to two political hacks who did nothing more than fanatically defend him against claims of Russian collusion.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, however, is supposed to honor people who have “made  an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Take a look at some of the previous recipients of our country highest civilian honor…giants like Cesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall, and Ted Williams. The great Iowa wrestler Dan Gable, presented with the award on Dec. 7 2020 certainly deserves this honor.

The list of recipients contains a few borderline/questionable picks, but outside of Trump’s most vociferous fans, few Americans would agree that Nunes’ and Jordan’s actions made them legitimate candidates for this kind of honor. Their selections came as an unpleasant shock to those familiar with the award’s high standards. Too wide a chasm exists between the extraordinary contributions of your typical Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients and those of either Nunes or Jordan.          

Heroes embody the ideals of a society’s culture. The pantheon of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients serves as a sort of American Hero Hall of Fame. And as with other well-known Halls of Fame, I believe any legitimate controversy pertaining to the selection of particular candidates should range over a matter of degrees, not wide chasms. Selection or non-selection in these types of instances should be a close run thing, with no surprises dominating the conversation.       

Take the latest controversy regarding the Pro Football HOF. Tom Flores, the former head coach of the previously named Oakland (1980) and Los Angeles Raiders (1984), belongs to a very elite group of NFL coaches—those with at least two Super Bowl victories to their credit.  Nevertheless, he has been continually overlooked for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio. Flores is also one of only two people in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. No doubt about it, all that makes for an impressive football resume. 

HOF committee members eligible to vote for candidates have had plenty of time to reflect upon his exploits and measure them within the context of NFL history. Those two Super Bowl victories still loom large. And besides, retired Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher made it to the Hall of Fame last year with just one Super Bowl victory.

Fortunately, Flores is once again being considered as a coach finalist candidate for the Hall of Fame Class of 2021.  Selections are scheduled to be announced in the days leading up to this year’s Super Bowl game.  Football aficionados generally label his selection prospects as excellent. In light of his noteworthy record, Flores’ selection can in no way be deemed a long shot. On the contrary, it’s a matter of degrees. No one would be surprised if he finally gets the necessary number of votes this time.

In fact, Coors Light is currently running a clever advertising campaign promoting the selection of Flores for the HOF. The TV commercial shows highlights of his career while Flores sits on a lounge chair sipping a Coors Light beer. The Moulson Coors Beverage Company obviously likes Flores’ chances. He can’t be more than a vote or two away from selection, and the campaign could help tip the scales.

All things considered, it’s a totally legitimate HOF selection quest. In other words, Flores’ possible selection in no way compares to the dubious Presidential Medal of Freedom selections of Nunes and Jordan. I contend the selection of these two congressmen for America’s Hall of Fame more resembles a farcical scenario is which the New England Patriots’ former equipment assistant and locker room attendant—the ones allegedly responsible for giving quarterback Tom Brady the upper hand by deflating his balls in the 2014 AFC championship game—were to be selected for the Pro Football HOF. 

Needless to say, any real football fan would be left flabbergasted by these ridiculous selections. Yes, these employees possibly played a role in the team eventually going on to win a Super Bowl (in the scandal humorously referred to as Deflate-gate), but like the roles played by Nunes and Jordan, it is one of “loyal stooge” or “enabler,” and in no way resembles the case of a worthy, highly credentialed HOF candidate finally accumulating the requisite number of votes.  

President Joe Biden has plenty on his hands. COVID-19, the economy, global warming, and relations with Iran are but a few of his major concerns. His presidency’s success will ultimately be measured in terms of how he comes to grapple with such issues.

In spite of these priorities, Biden’s first selections for Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients could help set the tone for the rest of his tenure. I hope he is wise enough to weigh excellence and accomplishment over partisan mediocrity. If he needs assistance, I’m sure the Coors Light ad execs would be happy to advise him.

The names of selectees for America’s Hero Hall of Fame should come as no surprise when they are introduced to our citizenry. If our country’s heroes are to indeed reflect the ideals of our culture, only a matter of degrees should separate previously overlooked selectees from those legitimate candidates still in contention for due consideration.

Steve Rodriguez is a retired Marine Corps officer and high school teacher who last taught at Olympian High School in Chula Vista.