Tiger Woods Falters, but What Makes a Real Sports Hero?

David Lynn@davidvlynnCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2010

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Tiger Woods makes a statement from the Sunset Room on the second floor of the TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour on February 19, 2010 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Woods publicly admitted to cheating on his wife Elin Nordegren but maintained that the issues remain 'a matter between a husband and a wife.'  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Recent weeks have shown a mix of highs and lows in the sports world: Winners of their respective events at the Olympics would definitely be at career highs. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, would be at a low.

It was while reading an article about his press conference that I saw something that really bothered me at the time, and has been on my mind a lot since. I don’t remember the exact quote, but in essence it said that Woods can no longer be seen as an American hero.

My first thought: I didn’t realize he was a hero.

Maybe my definition of the term is different than a lot of people's, but in my opinion being able to hit a golf ball a long ways and make loads of money does not make you a hero. If money were all that was necessary then Bill Gates would be a hero, as would numerous Middle Eastern leaders made rich off of oil.

Reading that article really got me thinking about what it means to be a true hero, and I came to a simple conclusion: Many people that are revered as heroes are actually just idols. There is a huge difference, and I find it to be a tremendous shame that the two are now commonly confused.

The dictionary defines "hero" as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” And while it may be difficult to play 18 holes of golf at Augusta National on Sunday at The Masters, I don’t think it takes any amount of courage or bravery.

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On the other hand "idol" is defined as “any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion.” This sounds to me like a much more accurate description of athletes who garner so much attention.

Since Tiger has been in the news recently, I will use him as an example. Please don’t think I am attacking him, just using him as an example.

From that first memorable Sunday at Augusta when he dominated the field wearing his red shirt, anybody who follows golf has, at the very least, respected Tiger’s abilities. As the years have gone by, he's vaulted himself into the conversation as the greatest golfer ever. This is completely justified as he's done things that no one else even considered.

He's single-handedly raised the level of the entire game to new heights; golf is no longer just a game for the weekend warrior, but one which requires massive amounts of physical training if you want to compete with the best.

Tiger has also done plenty of humanitarian work by donating to charities and supporting organizations that make the world a better place for everyone. He did all of these things while keeping his private life mostly private.

Personally, I am all for not knowing everything about everyone. He deserves his privacy as much as the next guy.

Then the bombshell drops that he is not the saint that many people thought him to be. He cheated on his wife numerous times and had a major addiction. Everyone was shocked at these new developments, and rightly so. Tiger had never done anything to make us believe he was anything other than a model citizen.

I am not amongst those who feel that Tiger is now some sort of terrible person. Yes, he made some major mistakes, but I know I have made plenty of my own. The fact that he is a celebrity doesn’t make his faults any better or worse, just more public.

But it is his celebrity status that has driven some people to use the title "hero" in the past, and to want to take it away from him now. Based on the above definitions, "idol" seems to be the better title.

“Any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion.”

Everyone was more than happy to put Tiger Woods on a pedestal and admire everything about him without knowing everything about him. Now it turns out he isn’t quite so great, and the admiration has dwindled.

The status of an idol stems from the worshippers and where they choose to place their worship, not from the attributes of the idol itself.

On the other hand, a hero is formed from within the person. Courage and bravery are not attributes that can be gifted to you by someone else. They are something that is part of your character. They are what make you who you are, not what others make you out to be.

So who are the heroes in sports?

The first name that came to my mind was Pat Tillman. Here is a man that was at the beginning of a quality, and very lucrative, career who set it all aside out of loyalty to his country.

No one made him do it, and this wasn’t some sort of publicity stunt. He didn’t join the Army and stay in the states to man a desk. He became an Army Ranger, went through intense training, and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he ultimately died.

Pat was a hero not because he was an athlete who made a lot of money, but because he put others before himself.

Larry Gelwix is another man who is a hero in the sports world. Larry is the Rugby coach at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, UT and his accomplishments were recently highlighted in the movie Forever Strong.

Coach Gelwix has had an impact on thousands of young men’s lives. He not only taught them about rugby and competition, but about being good men who do great things with their lives. His players have served all over the world in various capacities, and are part of what may be the biggest sports family, in the truest sense of the word, in the world.

Jackie Robinson looked fear and danger in the face and hit them over the outfield fence. He had no personal agenda, he just wanted to play ball with the best, where he deserved to be.

Dick Hoyt pushes, pulls, and carries his handicapped son through marathons, and even the Ironman Triathlon. He isn’t sponsored, and definitely doesn’t do it for the money. He does it to bring joy to his son, and in turn is an inspiration to everyone who has heard his story.

He is a hero in every sense of the word.

These men are examples of what true heroes in sports should be. Our heroes should not be dictated by the media and who they think we should love. They are involved in promoting athletes to be worshipped as idols, not heroes.

As often as not, the true heroes never make the news, and rarely receive the credit they deserve.

So as you watch your sports and support your teams, remember that it is true heroes like Pat Tillman and Dick Hoyt, who gave up a lot more than some endorsement deals, that make sports truly great.

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