Thursday, December 16, 2004

Sports Fan Seeks Hero

  I’ll be honest.  I don’t always write this column in search of feedback.  Very often I’m perfectly content with the little reality I have carved out for myself in this mad, mad world.  But this one’s different.  Every week, my e-mail address is printed at the bottom of this page, and this week I urge you to use it.

  Last week I was watching Dennis Miller interview the legendary sportswriter Frank Deford.  And as they discussed the state of sports, something horrible occurred to me.  If things keep going the way they have, we may be the last generation of Americans to have been raised with sports heroes.

   These days it’s more about the payoff than the playoffs.  It’s not just basketball or football or baseball or boxing.  Like our annual bosque fires, it has spread to all sports.  From the Major League to the Little League.  And I resent that. 

  Historically, athletes have been admired.  They have been our role models.  We marvel at their talent, but talent alone doesn’t make a hero.  It takes courage, perseverance, loyalty and dedication.  And above all, it takes character.

  Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron had it.  Ali and Foreman had it.  Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had it.  We expect our heroes to have game, but we demand they have heart.

  As recently as five or ten years ago, we had heroes.  Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Sosa and McGuire, Tyson and De La Hoya, Earnhardt, Michael Johnson, Lance Armstrong, Emmitt Smith and Joe Montana, Arthur Ashe.  The list goes on and on.  Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken.  There were role models around every corner. 

  And slowly they have faded away.  Some have retired.  Some should retire.  Some have lost our respect, and some have just lost their minds.

  Where is the new crop?  This generation of ball players seems to spend more time in court than on it.  They apparently paid more attention to “Jerry McGuire” than they did to “Rudy” or “Field of Dreams.”  If I wanted to see a bunch of stock brokers and untalented musicians getting together on a Friday night, I’d hang out at a political rally.  Or my neighbor’s garage.

  I don’t think I’m alone.  I think a lot of sports fans have become disenchanted by the attitudes and agents, the talk of salary caps and the lock-outs, the strikes, the fights. 

  Well, okay, the fights are fun to watch.  But the guys throwing hooks during the game and jumping into the stands aren’t our heroes.  Talented or not, Ron Artest will go down in history with Mike Tyson, Ty Cobb, and Latrell Sprewell.  They are out-of-control hotheads who will be remembered for their tempers, not their talent.

  I look around, and I don’t see in Lebron James and other modern sports figures the passion, the courage, or the character of a true hero.  They’re good at what they do, but they aren’t everything we’re looking for.

  Looking for a hero these days is like looking for a hockey game.  Or the Holy Grail.  Or the fountain of youth. 

 -From Pulse
   December 16, 2004