When the topic of sports heroes comes up in conversation, the talk usually hovers over a certain limited period of life – namely, childhood.
A person might keep their sports hero(es) up on a pedestal for a little while longer, say through high school, maybe into college, but it’s fairly rare these days for fervent admiration of any one particular athlete to survive much longer than that.
Why is that?
We all grow up. We all see more of the world, or at least learn more about “real life,” and we realize and accept that the men and women who we once worshipped are actually real people, real adults with personalities and flaws and (the horror) lives outside of their athletic pursuit. If not downright depressing, that realization is usually enough to, at the very least, quietly, subtly remove the pedestal upon which those athletes stood in our imaginations.
Sometimes, unfortunately, that removal isn’t so quiet or subtle. With the last couple of decades’ exposure of drug use in a multitude of sports, plus increasing revelations of athletes’ other various indiscretions, those pedestals have been crashing down like dominoes. Or maybe more like that scene in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” where the Griswolds accidently wipe out Stonehenge.
Even more unfortunate is that the eye-opening is happening earlier and earlier these days. A nine-year-old sees his hero on TV babbling some drawn-out apology for cheating on his wife, while his buddy hears that his hero in turn has been excelling for years while filled with more drugs than a pharmacy. What does that do to a kid?
It’s tough for a kid to maintain respect for a talented athlete. It can be tougher, not to mention rather unfashionable, to maintain that respect as an adult. When you’re at a gathering and you mention your deep admiration for so-and-so, how often do people wrinkle their noses and say, “Really? Aren’t they under investigation for….” Or, “Doesn’t he come off as kind of a jerk in interviews?” Or, “Have they ever won an Olympic medal?” Or the little chuckle and “I guess he/she is smart enough about doping to not get caught at it.”
I think the belief that grown-ups can’t have sports heroes is ridiculous. There exist plenty of good athletes out there. And when I say “good,” I mean Good. Ones who enhance their performance with work and sweat. Ones who may display slightly less charm in interviews because they prefer to spend more time training than preening for the media. Ones who you want your kids to go ask for an autograph.
So, yes: it’s good to grow up, see the world, live your life, and accept the fact that your hero is an actual person and not flawless. He or she has emotions; and a life outside of sports; and they will probably lose sometimes. Maybe even a lot. Keep admiring them. Admiring the human side of an athlete doesn’t tarnish the admiration, and there shouldn’t be any embarrassment in it. A good hero is worth hanging on to.
Let people make their snide remarks. Personally? I hope I never grow up so much that I can’t look up to someone.