The 12 Empty Seats of New Kyle Field

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The twelve empty seats at the renovated Kyle Field will serve as a memorial... but to whom?

Last year, when the new Kyle Field plans were released, there was a minor bullet point about twelve empty seats going into the stands. On its face, the memorial seemed like a touching tribute, but it was not clear what exactly the twelve seats would be memorializing.

An article in The Bryan-College Station Eagle on 5/1/2013 stated that these twelve empty seats will memorialize the 12 students who died in the 1999 Bonfire Collapse and all Aggies who have died in war. In a newsletter from Chancellor of Texas A&M John Sharp's office that same month, Sharp wrote that the twelve seats will memorialize fallen Aggies. According to Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express, in a construction update this month, Sharp said the memorial would represent the 1999 Bonfire victims. Two days ago, in the wake of TCU Assistant AD for compliance Greg Featherston's resignation after posting some ill-advised words on the subject, Chancellor John Sharp issued an updated definition for the memorial:

HONORING THE TRADITION OF THE 12TH MAN

"The planned 12th Man seats which will be left open in the second deck of the east stands of redeveloped Kyle Field are a living and visible tribute to the spirit of all members of the 12th Man who have come before at Texas A&M. It is a symbol of the respect all students and former students have for the hard work and sacrifice that went in to making this land grant University what it is today - one of the best in the country. Kyle Field is a very special place for all Aggies and we believe this section is a very special tribute to one of our most honored traditions, the 12th Man. While some have reported this is solely related to the bonfire tragedy, that is inaccurate."

John Sharp, Chancellor, The Texas A&M University System
Dr. Mark Hussey, Interim President, Texas A&M University

Here are the facts as we now know them regarding the "Twelve Empty Seats" of New Kyle Field:

  • The empty seats are meant to pay homage to all previous members of the Texas A&M 12th Man.
  • The seats will be located on the East Side (Student Section) at the 50 yard line.
  • There will be a barricade surrounding the empty seats.
Unfortunately, the focus for this memorial has been confusing to Aggies and non-Aggies alike. It's easy to see how twelve empty seats have been interpreted as a memorial for the twelve '99 Bonfire victims. After a year of reading Kyle Field updates, even I believed that this memorial was tied to Bonfire. Last week, I couldn't understand exactly why A&M would build a new memorial to Bonfire since there is a beautiful memorial already dedicated to Bonfire's victims. I felt that placing a memorial for twelve victims of a tragedy in the middle of a cheering student section would dilute the purpose of the memorial we already have. To gain some clarity on the matter, I e-mailed Chancellor Sharp a few days ago with my criticisms of the memorial. His response back provided greater insight into what Texas A&M is trying to accomplish:

...This is to honor and remember all Aggies who have passed! When each game is televised I guarantee they will feature [these] seats. It will further solidify our ownership of the 12th man [and] it would be a big mistake not to do this. [Thanks] for your email though. I appreciate it.

Sharp's e-mail made something brutally clear to me - this memorial was created to promote brand and trademark first, and to memorialize Aggies second. His reply explains why the memorial's meaning has changed while the memorial itself hasn't. At this point, the 12 empty seats have become a boondoggle. We now know that these seats are not tied to Bonfire remembrance, but the exact meaning of the memorial still is not clear.

The new purpose of this memorial is seemingly to bring something like Texas A&M's most sacred tradition, Muster, to Kyle Field game days. I am not opposed to that idea at all. In fact, I love that idea. But twelve empty seats doesn't seem like an appropriate way to memorialize all fallen Aggies, let alone the 12th Man spirit, in Kyle Field.

The 12th Man is not now, nor has it ever been, twelve men. The 12th Man was one man, E. King Gill and now it is one student body. King Gill's willingness to serve his team when called upon is what defines the spirit of the 12th Man. Today, that spirit is embodied by the Fightin' Texas Aggie students as they show up, stand, and yell during football games; showing their willingness to serve their team if called upon. With respect to the 12th Man brand, it is hard for me to imagine something more iconic and memorable than flashes of maroon and white swaying side-to-side against the second deck's "Home of the 12th Man" signage. I may be guilty of overvaluing the marketing power of the living 12th Man, but twelve filled seats represent the 12th Man spirit better than twelve empty seats ever will.

Further still, there's something greater than the spirit of the 12th Man, and that is the Aggie Spirit. That spirit "can ne'er be told" but is centered on high levels of loyalty and respect for Texas A&M from current and former students. Using the memories of fallen Aggies to increase brand visibility shows little respect and loyalty in return.

To be an Aggie is to be part of a family. Family members do not agree on everything, so I invite you to think deeply about this topic and leave your comments below. I will personally continue to criticize the execution of this memorial until Texas A&M comes up with an idea that most Aggies can firmly support.

Edit: Some people have asked about the best way to contact A&M with their opinion. Contact Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications Steven Moore via e-mail at steve.moore@tamus.edu.

Edit 2: People also asked for a petition to sign that they can place their names on. Here you go.
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