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Time For M Club To Honor Len Bias

November 18, 2013

Len Bias would have turned 50 years old today.

Imagine what a half century would have brought from the greatest Maryland basketball player ever. Probably a couple of NBA crowns with the Boston Celtics after being selected second during the 1986 draft -- a lot of highlights and likely mention among the immortals of the sport. 

Instead, Bias has been dead for 27 years after overdosing on cocaine. 

For decades, Bias' name wasn't spoken in the University of Maryland athletics office. His death touched off a scandal of cover-up and grand juries. Men's basketball coach Lefty Driesell left. So did athletic director Dick Dull, and even football coach Bobby Ross resigned. 

To say Bias' name brought a wince from school officials for years was an understatement. A decade ago, his jersey was hanging in the Comcast Center gift shop. Then-athletic director Debbie Yow claimed no knowledge, saying the vendor was selling it. I find it hard to believe that Yow, who once asked me to not drink a Coke during a press conference because Pepsi was the preferred vendor, didn't know of Bias' jersey selling less than 100 feet from her office. The jersey sold for big money, and Maryland gained a royalty. I guess it was OK to say Bias' name again once there was money to be made. 

So as Bias would have turned 50, the M Club should reconsider him for its Athletic Hall of Fame. Currently, guidelines say the person must be of good character and reputation. That debatable phrase has been used to keep him out. 

Yes, Bias died of a cocaine overdose in a College Park dorm hours after Boston had drafted him. But anyone who was around Bias knew he was a great guy. Bias wasn't some drug dealer who died on a street corner. He made a mistake that cost him his life, but I never met anyone who thought Bias was a bad person. I first met Bias when he was a high school senior. 

Driesell has been forgiven for his role of trying to cover up Bias' drug use. After not being invited to the closing game of Cole Field House, Driesell has since been honored twice on the Comcast Center floor, and was recently portrayed with a bronze wall next to the piece of Cole floor on the mezzanine.

During that night when dozens of Driesell's players and another hundred supporters came to the unveiling, Driesell mostly spoke of Bias. How he missed him. That the coach prayed for his lost player and thought they would reunite in heaven. By all appearances, Driesell wants the M Club to honor Bias. 

Maybe there's a lesson in the story of Charlie Wysocki, one of the Terrapins' greatest running backs ever. After carrying the Terps through the 1981 season, Wysocki was too slow to draw serious NFL interest. He left the Dallas Cowboys' training camp in 1982 when feeling overcome by the pressure. Wysocki wandered the College Park campus for weeks before leaving.

For more than 20 years, nobody knew what had happened to Wysocki. He just dropped out of sight. When I was a reporter with The Washington Times, I decided to find him. My first stop was the M Club, where I was told to leave it alone. That Wysocki was best left to history. They didn't provide any leads to his whereabouts.

It wasn't long before I traced Wysocki to a mental group home in Scranton, Pa., not far from his hometown. Bipolar disorder has plagued Wysocki since that Cowboys training camp, and led to two decades in and out of state hospitals before someone learned exactly what was wrong and prescribed the right medication. 

Today, Wysocki is living with others outside the state system. My story alerted many Terps who wanted to help, including former teammate Dave Pacella. For eight years, they've provided needed assistance so Wysocki is no longer drugged and forgotten in some state institution. Indeed, there was a big fundraiser in June, and current Maryland football coach Randy Edsall contributed to it while spending the evening talking to former players. 

Wysocki deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, too. But, more importantly, fellow Terps now oversee his care. Mental illness was once considered taboo to discuss. Now, we fortunately know better. 

So if Maryland honored Wysocki at halftime of a game last year, why can't it revisit Bias for the Hall of Fame?

It's time for M Club officials to talk to those who knew Bias. They'll learn he was a good person who made a bad decision. 

Fans haven't forgotten Bias. Neither should the Terps. It's time to forgive Bias on his 50th birthday.