Death to Sports Heroes?

From the Greek gods and their tragic flaws to the latest Major League drug scandal, humans have insisted on projectingSports Heroes God-like status onto humans supremely gifted in one area or another. When a gifted one; e.g. Michael Jackson, Lance Armstrong, Lindsay Lohan, is revealed to be human, we then take great glee in the celebration of their downfall. I hereby call for death to sports heroes. Problem being, it is far from that simple.

Charles Barkley was right when he said,

“I’m not a role model… Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids. If I weren’t earning $3 million a year to dunk a basketball, most people on the street would run in the other direction if they saw me coming. I’m a mad dog whose only concern is winning. I’m not paid to be a role model. Parents should be role models.”

Chuck is 100% correct. Except the world doesn’t work that way. When people have extra-ordinary skills, we reward them handsomely; with money and adulation and worship. What is troubling, however, is that ‘normal’ people tend to think an individual’s extraordinariness extends to all aspects of that person’s life. Of course, it doesn’t. Yet, when we are confronted with the reality of the situation, we get angry. At the guys we enthroned as heroes.


Let’s take kids out of this equation. Kids need heroes. Heroes are a kid’s life-targets. Heroes can restore order; goodness can triumph. But, a crucial part of the exit from childhood is the realization is that all humans are merely human. The “Say it ain’t so, Joe” moment is painful and necessary.

But adults? Stop it. Stop it now.

The latest Major League Baseball doping scandal, Biogenesis, brought this to mind. We, the fans, reward these men wildly out of proportion to their value to society. The more they perform superhuman feats, the more we reward them. The risks for the drug-taking baseball player are slight; a 50 game suspension to an athlete earning the MLB average $3.2 million leaves him with $2 million per annum; still a nice year’s paycheck.

One of baseball’s most notorious drug cheats, Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, earns $29,000,000 per year (that’s twenty-nine million dollars) for playing baseball. (That’s $18,000 per scheduled game.) Even if he is suspended for life, he is wealthy beyond belief.

Yet, in the comments section of newspapers and websites, I still read people who defend the “honor” of these athletes. I’m not surprised, because any adult man who is willing to cough up $219.99 for a Yankees jersey with A-Rod’s name on the back is going to work awfully hard to validate that expenditure.

I am a sports fan. I understand how exceptionally gifted these men are. Sports are exciting. Thrilling. A much needed escape. We pay athletes big because they perform big. It is a free market. People are willing to go $150 a pop for tickets. Markets do not lie.

I would not suggest that we should pay cancer researchers big bucks because what researchers do is truly important. I worked in cancer research as an undergrad. No one would buy a ticket to watch us. Research is boring. Kill some rats. Cut out some rat parts. Stare at the parts under a microscope. Bob Costas does not do play-by-play at the National Institutes for Health.

I do state that professional athletes are good; very good, at one thing. Their gifts open their hearts to hubris. Too many of them cave to the pressure. They are not heroes. They play baseball, football, or basketball. They race bicycles or hit a little white ball. Admire their skill. Cheer them.

Do yourself a favor. Stop right there. And take Chuck’s advice- be your kid’s hero.

Who was your hero as a kid? Do you remember the moment when you realized that your hero was just another guy? Do you have an athletic hero today? What does your belief in that hero bring you?


The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at

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  1. John Kowalski says:

    While I agree in principle with Barkley’s statement I also believe it was his way of shirking responsibility. He is right in that role models shouldn’t raise our kids, we parents should, and often don’t. Kids emulate behavior, your behavior Chuck! If you want to be a public figure and make millions, be a decent human being. Be a great player who doesn’t take drugs, fight in bars, or hit your spouse. I have no problem raising my kids, just stop making it harder on us.

    • Well said, John. I am certain that most pro athletes are good people, based upon the guys I know. But the few that aren’t, given their money and access to celebrity, are serious asshats.

  2. As far as athletes I liked Barry Sanders and Bo Jackson… but never wanted to be them. I always wanted to be like my dad. An outdoorsman, adventurer, hunter, fisherman and GREAT story teller.

    • Ben, I think you chose wisely. Barry & Bo always struck me as ‘regular guys.’ But choosing your Dad is the best one of all.

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