Opinion Corner: Where have the sports heroes gone?Maybe it’s the naivety of youth, maybe it’s the cynicism of adulthood, or maybe it’s just the realization we come to as we grow up that everyone is human, but it seems that it has become harder and harder to find the “heroes” that have filled our lives with unparalleled joy, awestruck amazement, and, as children, a desire to emulate.
By: Casey Johnson For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Maybe it’s the naivety of youth, maybe it’s the cynicism of adulthood, or maybe it’s just the realization we come to as we grow up that everyone is human, but it seems that it has become harder and harder to find the “heroes” that have filled our lives with unparalleled joy, awestruck amazement, and, as children, a desire to emulate.
Now, I realize that there are some true heroes out there in our everyday lives, but I’m not referring to parents, teachers, family members, firefighters, police officers, etc. that do heroic things or that are standup human beings. I’m referring to the sports heroes of our childhoods that we looked up to and idolized like they were gods.
Due to the latest fall from grace of a former sports icon, the subject of sports heroes is weighing on my mind. And I’m drawn to the question: Where have the sports heroes gone?
At the moment, Lance Armstrong’s deceit is, obviously, one of the preeminent sports stories (it would be the No. 1 story had Manti Te’o’s sad and confusing story not emerged), and Lance’s story provides another excellent example of how an athlete that we exalted to the nth degree has let us down with such a vicious thud.
Armstrong finally confirmed the doping allegations that many had suspected for years. And in the process, he not only put the finishing touches on his too-good-to-be true, forever-tarnished cycling career, but he unveiled the details of a ruthless, manipulative, and morally corrupt human being. During his run of seven-straight Tour de France victories, there were few sports stories that could touch his, and the U.S. loved him. Now, we find that the man we lauded would do anything to get ahead and that he slandered, stepped on, and destroyed the lives and reputations of those who dared threaten his reign.
Throughout the world of sports, we look around and find that, whether on the field or off, so many of our sports idols have, to various degrees, fallen short of the expectations that we have of them. From truly despicable and deceiving actions, like Lance’s, to the small mistakes that many make, countless sports icons have left us shocked and disappointed.
In no particular order, we can look at a few of the most high profile disappointments of recent years: Tiger’s extramarital affairs, Phelps’ bong picture, LeBron’s ego-inflating “Decision,” Kobe’s sexual assault charges, Vick’s dog-fighting, Joe Paterno’s lack of action relating to Jerry Sandusky’s atrocities, and the endless list of steroid abusers in baseball (Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, A-Rod, Clemens, etc.). This is, because of space, a shortened list, so please excuse me for those that have been left off, including the innumerable offenders that have broken laws relating to drugs, guns, assault, sexual misconduct, and driving under the influence.
It is saddening to see that the sports heroes of our youth are not the model humans that we, fairly or not, glorified them as being. And because we’ve been let down so many times, it becomes increasingly more difficult to find those genuine sports heroes that we, for some reason, have a desire to find and shower with our praise and admiration.
So why is it that we feel the need to make great athletes and coaches into something more, into heroes?
I believe that, in large part, it is because we romanticize sports so much. Sports provide such a tremendous escape from the rigors and stresses of everyday life, and they are such a focal point of American culture that we, often times, make them out to be more than just games and the athletes out to be more than just people. When we see sports figures with such remarkable talent and success, our instinct is to hold that person up on a pedestal as being larger than life.
We all love tales of incredible feats, whether they be about superheroes or in children’s fables, and because of the unbelievable accomplishments of some athletes, our society elevates these people into being more than mere mortals. They become the types of people that we hear about only in legends. Indeed, they themselves become legends, and as such, we want to believe that they, in all aspects of their lives, must be special and unique and above any wrongdoing.
Making these sports figures into sports heroes gives us something in our lives to break from the mundane and to hold up with a sense of wonder and amazement. Indeed, it makes our lives more enjoyable.
So it makes sense that we don’t want to believe that these individuals could let us down. But as we grow up and are exposed to the endless amount of information in today’s world, we find that these people aren’t everything that we made them out to be.
It seems that, in today’s day and age, there is no hiding the indiscretions and shortcomings of these former heroes. They simply can’t hide forever in a world that is so wrought with information and instant communication. Because of the magnifying glass that we hold over all of those in the public eye, including sports celebrities, offenses big and small are revealed and broadcast to the masses.
As a result, it seems that the heroes that we once had are, now more than ever, being exposed. They’re being exposed as human beings just like everyone else, with faults and screw-ups to spare.
And just like all human beings, the degrees of their transgressions vary from minute missteps that we blow out of proportion to enormous scandals that warrant our outrage.
I just hope that, for the sake of today’s children and future generations, we don’t come to the point where we can’t believe at all in sports heroes anymore, the point where we’ve held our athletes up to a standard that no human can meet, the point where we’re so cynical and jaded from these past betrayals that we can’t open our minds and accept that some people are capable of doing amazing things honestly and, simultaneously, being good human beings.
It is disheartening to think that in our world the ability to believe in sports heroes is beginning to vanish.
And although the people that we make our heroes have not specifically asked for the title nor the requirements that come with the job, and despite the fact that the evidence is mounting against the existence of true sports heroes in today’s world, we have to hold onto the belief that, if we temper our expectations just a little bit, there are people out there capable of living up to the still incredibly high standards that we set.
And if there truly are people that can measure up to our outlandish ideals, they certainly will be the sports heroes we’re waiting for to brighten those gloomy days and to help maintain our wonder in the world around us.
Casey Johnson is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner