When I was in second grade, each person in my class got a chance to be “Student of the Week.” We’d fill out a poster with different things about ourselves: favorite color, food, pet name, etc. One of the things we could fill out was “My hero is…” I put David Robinson, the center for the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. Robinson seemed like an exemplery professional athlete. He served in the Navy prior to going into the NBA. He stayed out of trouble, and seemed to be a good teammate and mentor to NBA all-timer Tim Duncan.
While Robinson seems like a fine person to label a hero, I’d have second thoughts about labeling any pro star a hero these days. You just don’t know too much about them. Take for example Kirby Puckett, He’s still pretty revered in Minnesota. The Twins stadium is on Kirby Puckett way. There’s a statue of him outside on the Target Field plaza. Any historical montage of Twins highlights features his infamous centerfield leap in the World Series.
But Puckett was not a good person. He had record of doing terrible, violent things to women. It just never caught on in Minnesota. We just never cared. I don’t know why, but he’s still lionized here.
He died 10 years ago today of a stroke. I want to not like him. I want the memory of him to match up with the whole of who he was, not just what he was on the baseball field, but the most negative energy I can put towards him is indifference. I’ve started to feel that way towards lots of professional athletes. I don’t think it’s healthy to lionize them (at least for just their on the field accomplishments.)
A few professional athletes still stand out for me.
I edited a memorial for former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeil the other day. I had heard the name, but didn’t know much about him. He attended law school and passed the bar after finishing his career as a football player. Now that’s admirable. He had to retire from law due to effects from CTE. And he died later from complications due to ALS.
There’s Alan Page as well. I wonder how many other professional athletes will be appointed to a Supreme Court in the future. I don’t know if I see that happening too often.
While he wasn’t an athlete, Marvin Miller was a fascinating guy. He was the head of the MLB Players’ Union for nearly 20 years. He changed the organization from one that screwed over the players to one where they all got a seat at the table. Say what you want about how much athletes make, but he truly stood up for the little guy.
This list is a lot shorter than it used to be. The thing is, the bar is labeled pretty low for professional athletes to be heroes. They just have to perform well to be recognized. It’s great if they’re good people as well, but I don’t think we should expect them to be examples in every aspect of their lives.
Keep your enemies close, but your heroes closer.