Letting Ourselves Get Burned By Sports Stars
This week has been an interesting news week in the sports world. The house of cards that was Lance Armstrong came tumbling down, and the endearing Heisman hopeful from Notre Dame blew up as a fraud in some regard. Last week, several Hall of Fame caliber baseball players were denied entrance into the Hall of Fame, supposedly as a statement by the baseball writers on their use of steroids. We regularly read about sports stars committing crimes, falling victim to drug habits, and failing to understand how to be anywhere near successful in a relationship. The media sells these stories and sucks us in with ease. We find ourselves glued to the TV, reading stories online, and contributing to an avalanche of tweets (is anyone surprised that Te’o is trending right now?). However, I find myself left with a question. Why do we continue to let ourselves be burned by sports stars?
Is it our own fault for so easily lifting up athletes onto pedestals they are too young for (Te’o) or too enthralled with to get down (Armstrong)? I’m certainly as guilty of it as the next person, as my childhood sports card collection clearly indicates. On some level, I think it’s simply in our nature to want to find a hero. We want someone we can look up to, aspire to be like, and use as a marker for our own success. There are certainly countless amazing athletes competing in a whole host of sporting events, and for those interested, they can be wonderful heroes. However, has the athletic idolatry gotten out of control? Are we actually choosing our heroes or letting the media choose them for us?
Now, I certainly understand that the media plays a part in who we look up to and what we desire. If it didn’t, sports stars wouldn’t be the most popular celebrities to endorse products. I remember listening to an interview many years ago with Charles Barkley, while he was still playing, in which he stated that he wasn’t a role model. He got a lot of flack for that statement, and the insinuation was that he was a role model whether he wanted to be or not, by virtue of his talents and position. At the time, I probably agreed with that assessment. Now, though, I wonder if a belief like that simply negates our ability to make good decisions for ourselves. Are we not competent enough to decide for ourselves the qualities we admire and then look to individuals in all walks of life that possess those qualities?
In the wake of all this controversy, I read an incredible story on one of my favorite running blogs, iRunFar.com. The author introduced us to Liz Bauer and Scott Brockmeier, and shared with us their journey over the last year. I’m guessing most of you have never heard of these two incredible athletes. I certainly hadn’t. As it so happens, they ran 36 and 27 100 mile races over the last year respectively! I’ll give you a moment to wrap your head around that. This amazing couple traveled all over the U.S. during 2012, hitting one race after another, suffering through countless injuries and setbacks, and set new world records in the process. Now, I love to run, and I hope to someday work my way up to a single 100 mile race in a year, but what these two did seems so untouchable that I almost don’t know what to make of it.
For the most part, the superstars of our sport are only showcased widely every four years. If it’s one thing I’ve learned while running, it is that there are amazing athletes all around me. I never even get a chance to meet most of them. You don’t see them on TV. They aren’t endorsing mainstream products. Heck, they could be sitting next to you on your next flight and you may never know it. However, knowing is a choice you make for yourself. Each of us decides for ourselves who our heroes are, and who we admire. I, for one, just found two 50-something runners to admire!