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Fans and Heroes

by Editor on August 25th, 2010

I love NPR’s sports commentator Frank Deford: he’s comfortingly authoritative and commanding, in the way that newscasters mostly are not these days, even if he’s generally talking about a subject that does not interest me.

But my ears perked up this morning for Deford’s story “Who Can A Young Fan Look Up To? It’s Tough.”  It is not that I disagree with him — the current crop of sports stars are either bizarrely self-centered (Lebron) or have flamed out gloriously (Tiger, Ben), or simply faded a bit in the way that people do (Serena), — but to my mind, he did not go far enough in defining why a sports star should be a hero, or why a fan should care.

Yes, of course, someone playing professional sports owes their first allegiance to being good at their chosen sport.  At the same time, I think what defines a sports star as a star is when they surpass their own achievements as a player because they realize they can apply their success in more significant ways.  Jesse Owns, Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Larry Doby, Arthur Ashe, or Muhammad Ali?  Those players were stars, stars worthy of being heroes, because they surpassed their on-court mastery to have a tremendous and positive impact on our society (and in more ways than just providing fodder for the paparazzi).  Where are the 21st century versions of these players?  Missing, entirely, as a class of people it seems.

So, thanks, Mr. Deford, for reminding us of the failings and persistent fallibility of folks like Tiger Woods, and for the endless confusion of the news media who seem increasingly to need stars to guide their coverage of issues (navigational puns intended).  (And thanks, too, NPR, for two good sports stories this morning; for the record, I agree with Tim Layden that football would benefit from bringing back the running game.  Passing is boring!)  But, Mr. Deford, I think you missed an opportunity to call sports players to account, and to encourage them to seek out a higher purpose for their lives and even their sports.

From → Popular Culture

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