If we didnt try to make a hero out of that guy with
those big brown eyes, that broad, boyish smile, those three
NBA championship rings, we wouldnt be so disappointed.
Well, Im here to announce once and for all: Athletes
are not heroes. And we must give up this foolish desire to,
in the words of one of our science fiction heroes, make
Oh, weve all heard the gruesome details by now. A nineteen-year-old
in Colorado has accused the beloved Kobe Bryant of the Los
Angles Lakers of some kind of assault. We presume its
rape although everybodys being kinda jumpy about using
that word. Apparently, he was taken to the emergency room
mere hours after she filed her complaint. What were they doing?
Extracting fluids for evidence? Taking dental impressions
for bite marks? We dont know. ESPN only tells us, The
Colorado police are relying on physical evidence. And
the alleged victim is extremely credible.
Of course, we cant be sure if Kobe did something atrocious
to that young lady. If the trappings of fame, power, fortune
went to that sweet, boyish head of his. But what we do know
is this: people are devastated. They complain that another
one of their heroes have fallen. They ask, What will
our children learn from this horrible episode? Well,
I say, If we didnt put the guy up on such a high
pedestal, we wouldnt be in this mess in a first place.
Althletes are athletes and thats all they are. They
are not now nor have they ever been heroes. If you want a
hero, look in Iraq or Afghanistan or at your local church
or charitable organization. Do not look in Staples Center
or Dodger Stadium or Edison Field.
Think about the supposed sports heroes from the past. Babe
Ruth? We now know he was an alcoholic womanizer. Joe DiMaggio?
Biographer Spoto has suggested he was physically and emotionally
abusive to Marilyn Monroe. Mickey Mantle? I think you get
my point. Athletes have never been heroes. Theyre people
who play a sport better than most of us. Thats all.
Why this tendency to idolize them? Most people see sports
as a kind of morality play, a metaphor for life. A man faces
obstacles and struggles to overcome them, the great man does.
He wins! We have elided the heroes from our myths, legends,
stories, and lived experiences like war with these players
on a stage, whether that stage be a basketball court, a hockey
rink, a football field, or a baseball diamond. (Oh gosh, did
I forget soccer?)
Some of our athletes may do heroic things
off the field with their charitable work, for example. But
that does not necessarily make them heroes. And they certainly
arent heroes just by virtue of being athletes.
I suggest we take a more conservative approach. Instead of
naming men heroes, simply because they play a sport better
than most, lets only label those men heroes who do truly
heroic things like bring Jessica Lynch out of a Hussein hospital,
If we do this simple thing, we do not have to become so overwrought
when someone does something decidedly unheroic, and we dont
have to worry about the bad example theyre setting for
Theyre not fallen heroes, theyre professional
athletes who have done something bad to another human being.
Lets send our prayers out to the victim, insist that
they endure the same legal process as any other citizen, and
get our beer and pretzels ready for the next game.