Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Holding Out for a Hero

Something has been bugging me for a few years. Nah, let's make that decades.  Every now and then I start to speak up about it, raise my index finger as if to stop the noise and make a point, and then I shrug it off. Choose your battles wisely, the man once said. But, I've come to realize that it really meant, "Only choose battles you can win." There's been enough of that brand of bullshit in my life - probably why I fell for it so easily.

Anyway. Back to the thing that's chronically, nay, serially bugged me.

Here's the thing. I have had it up to here (*points at eyebrows*) with people referring to athletes as heroes. Today was the last straw. I heard someone referred to as an Olympic hero and another referred to as a football hero. They are not  heroes; they are athletes, or if you want to be specific, gymnasts, runners, quarterbacks, etc. So, let's begin by breaking it down by definitions.

A hero is defined as someone who is admired for extraordinary acts of courage or nobility.

An athlete is defined as someone who is proficient in sports.

In no way does that proficiency make an athlete a hero. It doesn't matter how many trophies, how many medals, how many broken world records, or which team(s) signed the athlete... still not a hero. Now, I will acquiesce that an athlete can be a hero, but only if said athlete actually performs an act of heroism beyond the scope of their athletic job. Yes, it is just a job. They train to be proficient at what they're doing the way a doctor trains to be proficient at surgery, the way a chef trains to be proficient at cooking, the way a forklift operator trains to be proficient at forklifting stuff.

A hero doesn't think about personal gain. A hero doesn't look at a situation as a photo opp or viral story. A hero does what needs to be done in the moment for the greater good of someone other than himself or herself, with no thought to any glory that lies ahead. In fact, heroes are, more often than not, humble to the point of not wanting to be called heroes. I know, because I have many heroes in my life and none of them want the credit.

This is not a slam on athletes, not in any way. I admire athletes for what they are able to do, for their passion and dedication and spirit. I wish I could find some of that fierce determination in areas of my own life. No, I'm not slamming athletes.

What I am suggesting is a call to awareness. Let's stop glorifying people who run fast, or throw a ball, or do an impossible looking flip. Let's stop putting them on pedestals as icons of moral virtue (because they are flawed humans like the rest of us, and moral virtue has about as much to do with sports proficiency as it does with artistic talent). Instead, let's place them on a pedestal as someone who is really great at the sport that they do, which still leaves us plenty of room to admire them.

But. Let's stop calling athletes heroes by virtue of the fact that they are athletes. Perhaps if we do, we can allow them the space to take human form again. Maybe then we won't be so disappointed when they do turn out to be mere humans after all. Maybe then we'll see the human who lives within the athlete - the one with dark thoughts, the one with emotional issues, the one who loves his wife and children, the one who makes the wrong choices, the mother who feels guilty for training instead of being there for the kids, the one who doesn't treat his animals well, the one who thinks signing autographs is beneath her, the one who gets drunk, the one who doesn't ever feel like he's enough, the one who gets caught with drugs, the one who has his or her own ideas of who and what to stand for and when.

Humans, that they most certainly are, but not heroes.


  1. I agree, but I do think they should be held to a higher standard simply because they have put themselves in the position of being someone a child strives to be like. They did not simply "land" in the position, they strove for it. So I think they bear some responsibility for the image they project.

  2. I have said the same thing but with disgust a million times. You said it perfectly. Thank you.