College Media Network - Search the largest news resource for college students by college students

When athletes lose their capes

By Ryan Hecht


Published: Thursday, December 10, 2009

Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010

We all have someone we look up to and in many cases we consider these people to be “heroes”. Our heroes don’t throw on spandex uniforms and fight crime, but we regard them in the same manner. For all the supernatural talents and powers of those in the comic books, every one of them had a weakness. Superman had kryptonite. Spiderman had women. These flaws, no matter how inane, made these characters relatable; it made them human.

When real life heroes reveal their flaws, they too become like us. Only in their mistakes can we be related, for to err is human. The second part of that phrase is something Tiger Woods has struggled with for the past two weeks. The untouchable demigod of our generation made a mistake and his silence marks his resistance to come back down to earth. “I’m sorry,” Tiger probably wants to say, “but I’m just like all you people.”

The reaction of the public and media towards Tiger could have been predicted, given how little we really know about someone so prominent throughout the world. He’s the first athlete to make a billion dollars and yet, beyond his successes and affinity for throwing clubs after bad shots, the public knows very little about the man. Like your typical masked hero, Tiger is short in interviews and rarely discloses information about his personal life.

It was only two years ago that I first wrote about his reluctance to reveal himself, following the “lynching” comments made by a commentator and magazine. Tiger excused the racial slurs in an attempt to move past the situation, a decision disappointing to many, especially prominent African Americans in the media. In an ESPN debate on the issue, columnist Bob Parker called Tiger Woods “one of the most sorry athletes in the country.”

Tiger is not the only great sports hero we’ve seen take a fall this year. Michael Jordan tarnished the legend behind the greatest basketball player ever with his Hall of Fame induction speech. If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and don’t bother. It was like if Beyonce got on stage and made the speech at the VMAs instead of Kanye. Fueled by Jordan’s unmatched ego, the speech was everything you expected (why he’s the best) and nothing you hoped (sincere gratitude and humility).

Michael’s speech was shocking, but not really. This is a guy that proved he was the best at one sport and thought he could do the same in another. A compulsive gambler, he supposedly played teammates in $100 shooting contests until they were humiliated into giving up. He’s competitive to a fault, even to his family. In his speech, he makes fun of his brothers’ heights and says to his children, “I wouldn’t want to be you guys if I had to.” He’s so good, he wouldn’t want the pressure of having to be “like Mike”, assuming his kids or anybody watching still had that desire.

Ironically, Tiger’s fall came by saying too little and Michael’s by saying too much. However, neither would say as much as the media, who prey on the failures of these men. Today’s digital culture is gradually leveling out celebrity status. Celebrities now communicate with laymen on Twitter and Facebook and while they wait in grocery store lines, soccer moms read about movie stars that are “just like us”. We are obsessed with relating to the lives of celebrities, specifically their failures, if only to validate our own lives and the decisions we’ve made. How then, can we realistically look up to someone we’re constantly trying pull down to our level?

In 1993, Charles Barkley seemed to predict this day would come when he argued athletes should not be role models for kids. Parents, he stressed, should be the real heroes for children. His argument was that athletes as role models are telling kids to look up to someone they can’t realistically become. “Kids can’t be like Michael Jordan,” Barkley argued.

Well Barkley is wrong. Athletes should be role models for kids. For a lot of kids, options for role models realistically consist of athletes, the boy at school who’s had the most girlfriends and the rapper with the most bullet wounds. Around the time Barkley made his claim about role models was when Michael Jordan became a hero of mine. For a number of reasons, I knew I would not be Mike, but I could certainly strive to be “like” him. Kids look up to superheroes in the exact same way. They aren’t role models because they have unrealistic abilities, but because they’re achieving something they believe in.

No matter what Tiger Woods is actually guilty of, he will undoubtedly come out of this situation a better man. I hope his humility in the coming months is something young people can learn from. Can he still be a role model? Maybe. Time will tell. What we do know is that he can’t go back to the invulnerable days of before, and sadly, those kinds of athletes are diminishing before our eyes.

Limited are the days of masked heroes. Lebron, I hope you’re taking note.

Recommended: Articles that may interest you

Be the first to comment on this article! Log in to Comment

You must be logged in to comment on an article. Not already a member? Register now

Log In