Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius is the latest hero to fall, charged with the murder of his girlfriend. Perhaps we should be wary of turning people into heroes.

Heroes, it seems, only fall from their perches

  • February 20, 2013

We’re still deep in winter and already this young year has been bad for “heroes.”

First, there was Notre Dame’s star linebacker Mante T’eo admitting he lied about a girlfriend he never had who died of cancer, although she never existed so she didn’t really die. Conveniently, the truth was only revealed after the national championship football game in January.

Then there was seven-time Tour de France victor Lance Armstrong finally admitting that he cheated in all his Tour wins by doping. A cancer survivor who offered so much hope to so many others with cancer, it’s difficult to pick what was the worst behaviour by Armstrong: being a cheat when virtually everyone was cheating in his sport at the time or ruthlessly attacking and ruining the lives of so many people who told the truth about him while playing up the “cancer card” to the public?

And now, the worst of all is double-amputee Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, known as the “Blade Runner,” facing murder charges in South Africa in the shooting death of his girlfriend in his high-security and heavily armed home. The killing occurred on Valentine’s Day, of all days, and Pistorius’ defence is he mistook model Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder, while police say she was shot while sitting on a bathroom countertop.

Pistorius was a hero to millions around the globe, especially people with disabilities, because he proved anything is possible when you dream big and work hard to fulfill those dreams. Now, Steenkamp is dead, he weeps in court at his first appearance and another hero’s life is in tatters.

These three are the latest (remember Tigers Woods, Alex Rodriguez, Joe Paterno and a host of others this decade, not to mention O.J. Simpson two decades ago) and their behaviour begs the question: Why are so many heroes falling these days?

Is it our times where media and an adoring public turn them into icons while stripping away parts of their humanity because they simply can’t live up to the hype as super humans? Is it technology these days that instantly allows us to know everything about their private lives, and more quickly than ever? Is it the use of performance-enhancing drugs that may or may not scramble minds while bulking up their bodies? Maybe it’s all these things and more.

My dad always advised me to beware of hero worshipping. His advice made me wary and a little jaded, although I still had two heroes named Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus. And I was lucky to meet Nicklaus once and he was gracious with his time and in demeanor.

Still, my dad viewed putting people on perches could lead to heartache and he didn’t want his son to be disappointed. Judging by sporting heroes’ behaviour, maybe we should also beware of hero worshipping to protect the heroes themselves?

This brings me to my newest hero, one with whom I have no fear of him falling off his perch because he has decided to get down on his own accord. And that would be Pope Benedict.

I have long believed he is an honest man with great integrity. He is not always perceived in this way, especially when it came to criticism of him over the handling of sexual abuse crisis in the Church. And that is very sad. He was far ahead of many authorities, both ecclesial and civil. In the end, some of the earlier measures did not go far enough, but he learned from this, and he acted.

He met families of victims and the victims themselves when many civil officials were not taking steps. This is only one part of his legacy.

And his resignation will now be another large part of his legacy. This brave and selfless act — to which he has also received criticism from some — shows he’s thinking about others, and the need today for someone with health and energy to address the real questions which are coming from society and even from within the Church.

He deserves much respect for his service and his courage to the end.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@ abc2.ca.)


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