Opinions Cannot Replace Facts, Though They Try

This sidewalk conversation could have been between any two engaged and informed Eugene citizens.

“I don’t think Civic Stadium is worth saving. It was built on the cheap during the Depression. It never was worth saving.”

“Eugene City Council is making an offer, so that some unnamed bidder can put together a plan.”

“Why was Art Johnson fronting for these people? Why didn’t they just come forward themselves?”

“Maybe Phil Knight wants to buy the city a holiday gift, and get Vin Lananna’s dream of an indoor track facility built at the same time.”

“Nike money to save Civic Stadium? Sounds like a classic ‘free kitten’ deal to me.”

“If Vin has Phil’s checkbook and they want to preserve the site for public recreation, that’s good, right?”

“I don’t know.”

The only statement in the exchange above that is verifiably true is the last one. We don’t know. We don’t even know who does know.

Attorney Art Johnson claims he’s heard some things. Mayor Kitty Piercy has said there are conversations underway, but nothing she can talk about. Lananna has been busy winning international track meet invitationals for Portland and Eugene, but hasn’t spoken specifically about this particular endeavor.

And so, we wait.

But while we wait, we don’t stop caring. In fact, the opposite occurs. People do care, and caring craves information. Denied information, emotions and opinions naturally join speculation and rumor to fill the void.

You can blame Chip Kelly. He came to Eugene and announced his opposition to openness. We should have known right then that he didn’t plan to stay long.

He closed his football practices, keeping redshirt Marcus Mariota a secret from all of us, but not from Darrell Thomas. We didn’t know until the spring scrimmage game why Thomas mysteriously decided to turn pro and then wasn’t drafted.

Kelly next refused to announce or confirm player injuries or disciplinary measures. Fans were left to speculate about the causes of the team’s fortunes.

How badly was Mariota injured during the first half of the UCLA game? Why has third down and short yardage suddenly become so easy for opposing teams and so difficult for the Ducks? Are the Ducks’ linemen ailing or failing?

How many stairs was Josh Huff made to run after running his mouth about the Rose Bowl? How many chances was Colt Lyerla given before the team gave up on the troubled young man trapped inside a gifted athletic frame?

When we don’t know answers, we fill the space with more questions. But you can’t build a narrative with only questions. Opinions then harden into assertions, strengthening themselves to do the work of facts.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously stated, “People are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” But what happens when facts are being withheld and opinions are all you have?

They say that nature abhors a vacuum, but that’s just an opinion about a feeling, based on too little information. You can see how easily we twist ourselves, whether the topic is cosmic or local.

Will EWEB bury the utilities as part of any Willamette Street redesign? Does LTD have any plan for bus stop turnouts along that stretch? Exactly how many of the 70 driveway curb cuts will be eliminated?

The answer to each has been, “Wait and see.”

We all want to see and we know we must wait, but what do we do in the meantime? Mostly we share, rehearse, refine and solidify our opinions. We opine while we pine.

Our positions harden over time and we become less open to new information or surprising outcomes. We resist admitting our faulty assumptions led to faulty assertions.

Willamette Street is in this way different than most of the tempests we bottle into our teapots. It’s less than urgent, the options have been narrowed, and most of each side’s objections are based on speculation.

We can try the three-lane alternative temporarily and get some facts on the ground to inform our passionately held opinions. Once the test is over, we might know better the fate of Civic Stadium.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.