Embracing the Len Bias Legacy Challenge

by Dave Ungrady

An exclusive excerpt from an update of the book, Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias. The update will be published by the end of 2021.

In early March of 2014, The Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce organized a town hall event on the University of Maryland – College Park campus highlighted by a speech by Dr. Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Among those in attendance was Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, other athletic officials from Maryland and those tied to the local business and educational communities.

As a member of a chamber committee that hosted the event, I volunteered to help manage the media. I also brought along copies of the earlier version of this book, hoping to promote it on site. I was wary, though, about how Maryland athletic officials might react it to its presence.

Since the book was released in December 2011, the department had unsurprisingly greeted it with a consistent chill. Any attempt to promote it at a department-related event had been blocked. The death of Bias, after all, was  considered one of the more traumatic moments in the school’s rich athletic history.

When I saw Anderson near the check-in area, I reached out my hand and introduced myself, saying I was a former Terps athlete and author of the book on Bias. I had sent Anderson a copy of the book soon after its release but heard nothing in response, and I wondered if he had read it. I expected a standard response, with little more than a “nice to meet you.”

His response surprised me. “Ah, I read that book,” he said engagingly. 

I was further surprised when Anderson added with conviction, “We’ve got to get Len Bias in the Hall of Fame.”

“I agree with you,” I replied, and then offered assistance to help make it happen. 

Maryland’s Athletic Hall of Fame selection committee had shunned Bias since he was first eligible for selection in 1996. I had been told by some committee members that the reluctance came from a few other members who were stuck on a bylaw that stated a candidate could be rejected for bringing “embarrassment or disrepute” to the university regardless of their athletic accomplishments.        

Anderson pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to me saying, “take this.” No explanation or reason followed. I thanked him, not knowing what it was. In the midst of a brief crush to register members of the media, I was unable to engage Anderson further, and placed the object in a pocket. 

Later I discovered that it was a large coin emblazoned with the Terps mascot on one side and on the other side a large letter M surrounded by the words: “Presented by the Athletic Director. For Excellence.”

Anderson had given me a challenge coin. The coins symbolize support of an organization represented on the coin. They are also used, among others, to recognize a special achievement.

The next day I asked Anderson’s office for clarification about his intent for giving me the coin. An assistant responded in an email that Anderson said he gave me the coin “…for the work you are doing for Len Bias.”

After I completed the first edition of this book, I thought little about the chances of Bias earning induction into Maryland’s athletics hall of fame due to the book’s publishing. But as time passed, momentum moved towards an impending induction for Bias. Perhaps the book created awareness of Bias’ omission from the Hall, or perhaps it was more a matter of the passage of time, and eventual acceptance of the full legacy of Bias.

Either way, I embraced Anderson’s challenge to properly recognize the mixed legacy of Bias. And with Anderson’s support, momentum was clearly moving toward a Terps Hall of Fame induction. In July, 2014, Maryland’s athletic department announced that Bias the following October would in fact receive his long-awaited induction.

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