Great Floridian inflation

Published: Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 at 4:11 p.m.

Given the recent track record of state government, maybe there's not enough Great Floridians to go around.

Something is amiss with the Great Floridians Program. Under state law, the program is meant to “recognize and record the achievements of Floridians, living and deceased, who have made major contributions to the progress and welfare of this state.”

Gov. Rick Scott visited Gainesville last week to present the award to Steve Spurrier, the Florida football legend now coaching at South Carolina. The governor explained that Spurrier deserved the honor because he won a national championship as head coach and the Heisman Trophy as a player at Florida.

“So you want to give it to people who have done the right thing with their lives and they are an inspiration to others,” Scott said.

Is he talking about the same guy who threw fits on the Florida Field sideline, punctuated by his trademark visor toss? The guy who ran up the score and insulted other schools (Think “Free Shoes University”) at any chance? The one who's so thin-skinned about criticism that he banned a columnist from a press conference last year?

There's no doubt that Spurrier is a great coach who built the Gators into a football powerhouse without a hint of scandal. He deserves credit for the charity work that he's done here. He's also infinitely more honest and entertaining than the new breed of coaches who adhere to Bill Belichick's monosyllabic style.

But a Great Floridian? Are we that desperate?

Scott's visit to Gainesville was clearly about an unpopular governor getting a photo op with a popular sports figure. Soon after the visit, the governor's office sent a “photo release” featuring pictures of Scott and Spurrier decked out in shades as they cavorted around the Swamp.

It was a chance for Scott, if just for a fleeting moment, to seem less like a space alien and more like a normal guy.

Scott has been on a tear bestowing the Great Floridian award on athletes and coaches. A couple of months ago, he gave the honor to former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

Last weekend it was former Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy and linebacker Derrick Brooks.

To be fair, the 2013 class of Great Floridians includes entrepreneurs, doctors, military heroes, humanitarians, artists and Florida Supreme Court justices. But it also includes former Dolphins coach Don Shula and former Florida and Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith.

I love football as much as the next guy and some of those honored, like Dungy, have done good things off the field. But it's a sad state of affairs when six of the 23 award recipients this year played or coached football, while another — Bubba Watson — is a golfer.

It might just be a case of Great Floridian inflation. This class of award winners is more than twice as big as past years.

Or maybe the governor is right and Spurrier really is inspirational. He's surely more recognizable than the military heroes, humanitarians and artists given the award.

And perhaps that's the biggest problem of all — and we in the news media get the blame for that more than the folks deciding who qualifies as a Great Floridian.

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