Are athletes heroes?

By Alex Bullock

In a time when we should have been following the NFL Playoffs and evaluating NBA teams getting into midseason form, our attention was held by not one, but two sports stories based on a series of lies surrounding high-profile athletes.

Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs and lied about it.

Manti Te’o’s girlfriend did not exist.

Now, these stories have been dissected and analyzed by all news sources, have been trending topics on Twitter and are undoubtedly on their way to becoming some sort of meme, so I don’t need to go into the specifics of the stories. Instead, I’d like to tackle other questions. Why should I be shocked? Why should I care anymore?

Sports are interesting because they provide us with a number of short-lived icons. Last spring, Linsanity came and swept us off of our feet. Now Jeremy Lin is an average NBA point guard on a middling Houston team. In reality, stars with longevity are few and far between relative to the amount of professional athletes that populate our leagues. We view many of these athletes as heroes of our hometown, as champions for good, as role models. In reality, what have any of them done to deserve this status? Made a few baskets? Scored a few touchdowns? Hit a few home runs?

The majority of athletes are famous because of the way they develop and utilize their natural talents and abilities, not because they show some kind of moral fortitude or are upstanding citizens. In fact, many are popular despite their character. Some of our highest profile athletes have made some questionable character decisions, ranging from tax evasion, infidelity, gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and in some cases even murder.

So it’s true: every athlete has their demons, just like I have my demons too, and so do you, as does everyone else. Why should their mistakes carry more weight than ours? Athletes’ lives are more public than yours or mine, but does that mean that they should be held to a higher standard than us? Does it mean that they are more readily equipped to make the right decision? Nothing about being an athlete means that a person is of a heightened quality of character. Our problem is that we have come to expect more from them. We shouldn’t raise our expectations for athletes, nor should we lower them.

Athletes are not heroes. No matter how many games they win or points they score, they are simply athletes playing a game. There is no stipulation that a person be a morally sound being in order to compete at the highest level.

I am deeply disappointed that Lance Armstrong lied so fervently for over a decade. He was an inspiration to many, and now he has become a disappointment to even more.
Manti Te’o didn’t intentionally cheat or hurt anyone, he just showed poor judgment and misled the media, but why should we expect more from an athlete?

Don’t get me wrong, there are athletes who have done wonderful things for the community. My favorite example is Magic Johnson, the face of the NBA during the 1980s, being diagnosed HIV positive and becoming the face of the fight against HIV/AIDS. Johnson had won championships and MVP awards, but with his diagnosis, he was made human. His work for this cause was not born out of his athletic prowess. Instead, it was born out of his strong will and charisma. Any other athlete probably would have faded away, but Johnson’s star grew brighter as he became recognizable to more than just sports fans.

Johnson is proof that being a champion of a sport does not make a person a champion of morality. The two are mutually exclusive. It takes more than a performing well on the court to be a true hero.