Where Have The Heroes Gone?

William JoyContributor IFebruary 5, 2009

It is a simple fact of life that when children are born, they instantly begin to learn by copying or mimicking what other people say or do—they find a role model.

For any sports fan, the most natural thing to do is to look to athletes to be that outside role model. However, the legends that we once looked up to have aged, and are beginning to leave the sports world for good.

Tragically, the time of almost mythical sports heroes has inexplicably begun to end, and the era of “I” has commenced.

Whatever happened to the Michael Jordans of the world? The athletes who, despite being cut from their high school basketball team, proved that through determination, practice, and hard work anything is possible.

Is it really possible they have left us forever only to be replaced by Stephon Marbury’s shoot-first-pass-maybe style of play and attitude that resulted in him being banned from the Knicks?

Could it be that Ron Artest, who started the largest brawl in NBA history resulting in a 73-game suspension and $5 million being cut from his pay, really is the next Jordan?

Brett Favre, who could most readily be described as a synonym for sportsmanship, is on the verge of retirement. What great star do we have to replace him?

Maybe it’s Michael Vick, who was recently sentenced to twenty-three months in jail for dog fighting.

Although it may not be a popular opinion that the era of sports heroes is ending, it sadly appears to be true. Simply turn on the television and wonder whether Johnny Unitas would have danced in the end zone like Chad Johnson.

For every Lance Armstrong, whose full list of accomplishments is longer than this article, there is a Pacman Jones, whose rap sheet is also probably longer than this article.

Just look at Wheaties, for example. Lou Gehrig, whose 2,130 consecutive-games-played-streak was only stopped by the disease that killed him, first graced the box in the 1930s. Others depicted on the front include giants like Walter Payton and gymnast Mary Lou Rhetton.

Recently however, their choices have been limited, and baseball players Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have started to make appearances. Both players have recently been under federal investigation, and likely include steroids and amphetamines in their “Breakfast of Champions.”

Maybe hoping to see that old kind of athlete is asking for something impossible, like figuring out the plot of Lost.

Last summer, Cal Ripken, Jr., who happens to be the only player to break Gehrig’s streak, expressed a widespread sentiment in his acceptance speech for the Hall of Fame.

“As years passed, it became clear to me that kids see all—not just some of your actions, but all. Whether we like it or not, we big-leaguers are role models. The only question is, will it be positive or will it be negative? Should we put players up on pedestals and require that they take responsibility? No. But we should encourage them to use their influence positively to help build up and develop the young people who follow the game. Sports can play a big role in teaching values and principles. Just think. Teamwork, leadership, work ethic, and trust are all part of the game, and they are also all factors in what we make of our lives.”

On the flip side, when asked whether he was a good role model, Mike Tyson, famous for biting of the ear of Evander Holyfield, said with a smile on his face, “I could teach you what not to do.”