We go through it routinely, this cycle. Whether through typically purposeful media hype or other more organic mechanisms, we inflate celebrities to the status of heroes. Then comes the inevitable, but somehow surprising fall of these faux heroes due to their completely predictable human failings.
Maybe the problem lies, not with those we’ve chosen to elevate, but with ourselves and our choices of heroes.
After all, what is it we think a hero is?
A hero is not someone who just does extraordinary feats. If that were true, every circus freak would be a hero. No, a hero is someone who does extraordinary feats: (1) while exposing themselves to risk (physical, emotional, to their reputations) or danger; and (2) doing so in order to benefit others. Examples might include, exploring previously undiscovered places, saving others in time of war, or teaching girls to read in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
By that definition, and I say this as a dedicated fan of sport, there is nothing inherently heroic about athletics; athletics being simply being a category of popular entertainment.
The latest revelations about Lance Armstrong have led to a by-now typical round of hand-wringing about the loss of our “heroes.” At this late date, anyone – and I mean anyone – who holds sports personalities as heroes must be: (1) a child, (2) hopelessly ignorant, or (3) both blind and deaf.
Since 1998, more than a third of the top finishers of the Tour de France have admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs at some point in their careers or have been officially linked to doping.
Major-league baseball’s latest, but by no means only high-profile cheaters, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon. Colon was having a solid year and Cabrera was selected MVP of the All-Star game before being caught taking banned performance enhancing substances.
In previous years, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez were all-star baseball players who used banned drugs.
Olympian and universally-beloved “golden girl” Marion Jones admitted to using steroids.
Want real heroes? Find people worthy of the title.
At the age of 32, Physicist Sally Ride became an astronaut and was the first American woman to orbit the earth. Marine sergeant and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer risked his own life to save 13 US troops and 23 Afghan soldiers by providing the cover in a firefight necessary for their escape. Mohandas Gandhi exposed himself to prison, beatings and ridicule in his fight for Indian rights and independence.
Barry Bonds and his ilk, pardon the expression, aren’t even in the same league.
As long as we continue to elevate entertainment personalities, both athletes and others, to the status of heroes, we’ll continue to go through this wrenching but, in the end, essentially empty and meaningless cycle of apotheosis and public destruction.