Georgia has had its share of extraordinary athletes. Herschel Walker was born in Wrightsville, Bobby Jones was born in Atlanta and Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo. Who is Georgia’s greatest all-time athlete though? The answer is relatively easy. Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born in Narrows, Georgia (an unincorporated community in Banks County) on December 18, 1886.

Cobb’s name has been in the news a bit lately as the Braves begin the real process of leaving Turner Field behind. Part of the process is divvying up the “contents” of the stadium between the Braves and the stadium owner, the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority. The Braves submitted a list of items it wants take in the move to Cobb County. Doug Richards, from 11Alive, reported that some of the items include “memorabilia, artwork, electronic, kitchen items and locker-room accessories.” The Braves would also like to take the statues outside of Turner Field. These include the Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn statues, as well as the retired number statues of Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro and Spahn.

The Braves told 11Alive it is because they do not own the statue, although a Braves spokeswoman said they do have documentation to prove ownership of the other statues. It is unclear why the Braves would not also have ownership of the Cobb statue. The author of a recent book on Cobb, Charles Leerhsen, said he thinks Cobb’s reputation is part of the reason.

Cobb gained the reputation as a renowned racist, miser and general jerk following the publication of a book that came out shortly following his death. An additional story published by the same author, Al Stump, further fleshed out the “evil Cobb” and the country took to the story rather easily. Cobb was born in Georgia in the 1880’s, not exactly a time of racial harmony and, according to Leerhsen in his book, “when the culture has a mind to convict someone, facts are like gnats, annoyances to be swatted away.” A theme catches on and people don’t do any original digging, they just know the theme and expound upon it as fact.

Leerhsen discusses the phenomenon at length in his book, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.

“This Cobb was someone they could shake their head at, denounce, and feel superior to.  Spinning stories in a way that made him look immoral was a convenient way to say, “I am not a racist because I reject this man who is.” Cultures changes as values change, wars are waged and the harvest waxes and wanes, but a villain who inspires self-congratulation makes for one hell of a tenacious myth.”

When Richards first reported on the statue issue, he described Cobb as “tangled in allegations of racism and violence.” When Greg Bluestein from the AJC reported on the issue, he included an excerpt from a Smithsonian magazine piece that began “stories of Cobb’s racial intolerance were well-documented.” Except, after reading Leerhsen’s book, both the stories included in that particular excerpt were either complete fabrications or wild exaggerations.

Ty Cobb was not a saint. He was prone to quick anger and eruptions but the fullness and greatness of the man has been overshadowed by rumor and innuendo.

Two things that are clear about Ty Cobb’s legacy are still around today. The Ty Cobb Educational Foundation has been awarding scholarships to qualifying students for decades. The foundation provides financial assistance to students who need help completing their college education. As of 2014, over $15 million in scholarships have been given out. Cobb Memorial Hospital was founded by Cobb in 1950 in memory of Cobb’s parents and provided medical care to residents of Royston and rural Northeast Georgia. St. Mary’s Health Care system bought the Ty Cobb Regional Medical in 2015 but the legacy of the hospital continues.

It’s about time Georgia unlearned some of things about Cobb and recovered their love for Georgia’s greatest native athlete.

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