When Sports Heroes Fall From Grace, It's Personal

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IMarch 13, 2010

ATLANTA - MARCH 05:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Scotts Ford, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5, 2010 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Tom Whitmore/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tom Whitmore/Getty Images

It seems that there has been a rash of sports heroes that have recently fallen from grace, from Tiger Woods to NASCAR driver Carl Edwards—who intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski, sending the latter driver's car flying upside down into the fence. 

But whether in golf, NASCAR, or any other sport, when you are a fan of a hero that has fallen from grace, it is not just a tragedy for them and the sport, it's just plain personal.

This has never become more evident to me than recently, when I learned something about a NASCAR hero of mine that was tremendously disappointing. Although the validity of the claim may be questioned, my faith, trust, and belief in someone that I looked up to and admired in the sport has been shaken, which for me has been most personal.

I do not intend to name names or share details, because that is irrelevant. The point is that, if true, the allegations have changed the way that I view one of my heroes, which has saddened me greatly, and diminished my trust in others that I look up to in my sport as heroes.

This phenomenon of being personally disappointed when one of our heroes falls from grace is not unique to just me. At least I don't think so.

When we learned of the unfaithfulness of Tiger Woods, were we not all saddened and dismayed to find out that one of golfs' greatest could be so flawed? When we learned of Michael Vick's animal cruelty with dog fighting, were we not all personally disappointed to learn of this role model's transgressions that eventually landed him in jail?

Perhaps it is just me, but it seems like we are seeing more and more extremes in the bad behaviors of our sports heroes. Back in the day, there may have been rumors of drinking, carousing, or perhaps even betting on a particular sport.

But now, there seems to be more illegal activities going on with our sports role models.  From football hero Plaxico Buress shooting himself in the leg with an illegal fire arm to the "name your baseball hero" accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, not only have sports heroes disappointed, but they actually have had to do time for their transgressions.

Perhaps it was always present, but it just seems that sports heroes of today seem to feel entitled—not only to the fame and fortune, but also to the adulation that fans accord them. They seem to feel that they have every right to engage in their bad behaviors just because of who they are and the needs that they feel should be met.

One of the most glaring examples of this sense of entitlement seems to be Tiger Woods.  Whether you think he has a sex addiction or not, there is no question that he felt entitled to have all of those forbidden sexual encounters just because he is Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer of his time.

As someone who lives with a spouse who idolized Tiger Woods, you can imagine the disappointment after the bombshells dropped about that athlete. My husband will never look at Woods the same, on or off the golf course, and he may never look at another golf idol with the same passion.

Another change from the past is the technology that enlightens us in what seems like a nanosecond as to our sports heroes' transgressions. From the main news outlets, to Facebook and Twitter, we can all now learn instantly and ad nauseum about the gory details of our particular hero's fall from grace.

I, in fact, learned of my "hero's" alleged issues through a Facebook post and message.  Recently, we've all learned of other sports heroes' issues—from "breaking news" on TV and radio that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape to the regular tabloid updates about the Tiger Woods situation.

This past week, in a media teleconference with NASCAR President Mike Helton, a reporter from Inside Edition was even on the conference call discussing Carl Edwards' indiscretions on the track. Edwards' only statement about his side of the controversy in his contact with Keselowski was done on his Facebook page.

Whether or not we find out immediately through the various technologies about the sins of our sports heroes, the indiscretions are there, and are personally disappointing. This may be no more true when the fan that is disappointed is a child.

How do we talk to our kids when their heroes fall from grace? How do we help them deal with their disillusionment and disappointment?

Ironically, the way we help our children handle a sports hero who has done something inappropriate or even illegal is the same way that we as adults must deal with it.

We must step back, remind them and ourselves that our heroes are human, and remember that we idolize them for the most part only because they are good at a particular game or have a particular sports talent.

These sports heroes may not even be appropriate heroes. In fact, seeing our sports heroes fall from grace may just be the opportunity to be reminded that heroes, true heroes, are not on the court, field, or race track, but in our own homes, in our churches, and in our classrooms.

True heroes may not be named Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant or Carl Edwards. They may instead be named Dad or homeroom teacher or pastor.

We all do need heroes. There is no doubt about that. 

And in spite of the sports "heroes" who we often idolize, but who often disappoint, there may be more appropriate heroes closer to our own homes and even among us.

I know that from now on, I will be choosing my heroes much more carefully. And they most likely will be nowhere near the world of NASCAR or any sport.