As Veteran’s Day weekend came to an end, I found myself reading some letters from disappointed readers about my last column in which I said that I didn’t mind if professional athletes take steroids. I read these letters over and over, questioning if I really was in sane for my views and if I really do know as much as I think I do about sports.
As I pondered my credibility I came to a line from one extra-aggravated fellow saying that I’m a disgrace because these steroid users are heroes to little kids everywhere. At this point I had to stop and ponder just what the word hero means.
Being in an extra patriotic mood from reading articles about veterans from past wars, and from watching Saving Private Ryan just a few days ago, I tried putting Barry Bonds’ sweet swing in the same category as a man who has died defending his country during a time of war.
Bonds, along with every other athlete I thought of, came up just short.
I then thought about firemen, policemen, doctors, and icons like Martin Luther King Jr., who have influenced people and changed the world for the better.
I again thought of Barry Bonds, this time trotting around the bases with kids cheering.
Gandhi standing up for the civil rights of others, Mother Teresa helping poverty struck families, and Barry Bonds sliding into second just around the tag. One of these doesn’t seem to fit with the others.
These days, the word hero gets thrown around more than the pigskin before Thanksgiving dinner — and it’s absurd. I’ve never heard of a touchdown catch saving a city from being raided, or a buzzer-beater cleaning the streets of drugs and violence. I love sports as much as anybody, but I can’t say that the way they perform on the field is heroic.
Don’t get me wrong, professional athletes are most definitely role models to many. If it’s their duty to be one or not is a different argument. But people who get paid more money for each game they play than I will ever earn in a year are definitely not heroes just because they are great at what they do.
This isn’t to say that an athlete can’t be a hero, because there are many heroes amongst them. Jackie Robinson, and many other black athletes from the same time who broke the color barrier in professional sports can be considered heroes.
Other athletes use their money and fame to better others, like the way Curt Schilling donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to different charities each year. Schilling is not a hero because he helped both the Diamondbacks and the Red Sox win World Series, or because he has won over 200 games in his career. He’s a hero to many because he has helped others just because he can and he enjoys doing it.
Athletes doing what they get paid to do are fun to love and to root for, and are even those to emulate for a child dreaming of making it to the pros, but they aren’t saving lives.