"I am the bullet in the chamber."
That's the slogan Nike used in their promotional materials to accompany three images of sprinting star Oscar Pistorius exploding out of the blocks. The slogan was provocative, and took on an unintended meaning when news broke Thursday morning that Pistorius had been arrested after reportedly murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
According to reports, Pistorius pulled the trigger several times, sending four bullets in the chamber of a 9MM pistol toward Steenkamp and fatally wounding her while at his home in the dark, early hours of Valentine's Day morning.
Pistorius, 26, is no stranger to guns, tweeting photos of himself at a range and reportedly having multiple weapons despite living in a housing complex protected by a 10-foot wall, electric fence, guarded entrance and regular patrols. In South Africa, gun violence is rampant, leading many civilians to procure firearms for protection.
What took place in the home of Pistorius on Feb. 14 is not an indictment of the gun culture in South Africa (or anywhere in the world), nor will this generate the moral hand-wringing about how guns in the home actually cause more violence than protect against it.
This story isn't about that.
This is about "the bullet in the chamber" who allegedly shot his 30-year-old girlfriend four times, and what that means for those of us who only knew one side of the Blade Runner's inspirational life story.
There was no more stirring tale at the Olympic Games last summer than Pistorius strapping on those carbon blades and competing against more able-bodied athletes after years of fighting for inclusion.
Sure, there was controversy surrounding his addition to the Olympics, as no one is really sure how much of a benefit Pistorius receives from the blades, but his triumph to get to London is what mattered to most people. The fact that he could dedicate his life to the hard work and determination it takes to compete at that level was an inspiration to millions around the globe.
But like a bullet in the chamber, all that was gone in an instant.
No matter what actually happened in Pistorius' home between him and his girlfriend—initial reports suggested that he believed her to be an intruder before subsequent reports from police insinuated more nefarious motives—the feel-good sports story of a generation is forever marred by tragedy.
This seems to happen quite often in our society, though not always with such fatal consequences.
We want our athletes to be three-dimensional beings. We like them to be more than just a picture in an ad or a five-minute television feature before a big race. We want to be part of their lives, to experience the thrills of their victory and comfort them in the perils of defeat.
We live in a time when our heroes are more tactile than ever before, and where, for better or worse, we can learn everything about their lives with a click of a button. And yet, still, sometimes we don't know anything about them at all.
Sometimes people are capable of things we could never imagine.
Pistorius, a man who has done so much good and inspired so many people, should not be capable of doing what he has been accused of.
That goes for any professional athlete, really. It could be Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Ray Lewis, Jovan Belcher, four football players at Alabama, or any number of idols who, for whatever reason, turn out to be less than honorable.
These superstar athletes, from whom many of us find daily inspiration, are flawed. Three dimensions are repeatedly not enough, and it's hard to know who to believe, who to let in and who to give our heart and soul to as fans, supporters and, yes, even worshipers.
We put our sports stars atop pedestals in not just athletics, but life. In some cases, these athletes exceed our expectations as people, making our support all the more deserving. Other times, as seems to be the case with Pistorius, the inspiration is fleeting.
The story was, in fact, too good to be true.
In a way, that makes this even harder to understand. It's in our human nature to seek the good in people—to be moved by those with inspirational stories. But as we have learned, some may not deserve it.
Like a bullet from the chamber, everything we think know about someone can disappear in a flash.
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