Professional Athletes Are Entertainers, Not Heroes

Perhaps one of the most abused words in sports journalism is “hero”, or perhaps “heroic”. The reason it is abused is not because it’s overused-which it is-but because it’s so totally inappropriate. After all, the journalists, whether they be bloggers, periodical pundits or talking heads, are talking about athletes. They are NOT talking about heroes.

Certainly, athletes sacrifice much in the way of time, effort and sweat to accomplish their often amazing feats. Almost all athletes suffer injury and go through intense pain in order to play their game. But they are doing it for the love of the game, and perhaps for that big payday, not because another person will stay alive, or stay healthy, or enjoy freedom, or enjoy anything more than perhaps a transitory thrill at watching their accomplishments. That is dedication, and perhaps courage, but it is certainly not true heroism. Hitting a home run when the athlete is being paid millions to hit it is simply doing their job, not being “heroic”.

What is a Hero?

A hero should be someone who puts it on the line for others, whatever “it” may be. Sometimes, it is actually life and limb they are risking to serve others, such as a soldier or a would-be rescuer. Police and firefighters are often heroes. Sometimes, it can be much less obvious, such as a parent who takes an extra job to have enough money to finance her child’s dream, or a teacher who signs up to teach at a tough inner-city school although he could be making a better salary at a wealthy suburban school.

If it was simply the abuse of the word when applied to athletes, then this would be a squabble about semantics, not a serious article. But that is actually the least of the disturbing element about the abuse of the word. The serious issue is that those journalists are actually trying to make heroes out of those athletes, that is, someone whom a young person should idolize and emulate. In other words, they are trying to make them into heroic figures, because a true hero SHOULD be admired and emulated as a person.

Well, most of them are certainly not heroic, and many of them are not even people you would want your child to be seen with in public, let alone to worship and imitate. There are so many stories in the media these days that it’s not necessary to repeat them here. Tales of domestic violence, public drunkenness, weapons in strip clubs and even locker rooms, illegitimate children and sexual addictions, public displays of rudeness towards coaches, owners and fans, fights in locker rooms or on the field, and so on, are almost daily occurrences. And those are only the stories that make the news.

Professional Athletes are Entertainers

As soon as an athlete becomes a professional, they become an entertainer. After all, they produce nothing but the pleasure of watching their performance, which is the very description of an entertainer. Unless a person is a diehard gambler, there is in reality nothing but satisfaction or dissatisfaction riding on the outcome. Why is it that we treat an athlete any differently from any other entertainer? Yet we do.

The tabloids love actors, singers, comedians, dancers, and other performing artists, because we can mock their lifestyles as well as their onstage antics. We can be shocked and titillated by their frivolous affairs, as much as we may be enraptured by their professional performances. Yet we do not proclaim even the greatest of performances to be “heroic”, and very few people seriously consider a performing artist to be a true role model, someone who stands for decency, honesty, strength of character, and an otherwise admirable lifestyle. But that is exactly the way in which the media love to portray famous athletes!

How about when an athlete donates large sums of money to a charity or sets up a foundation that helps those in need? That makes them a philanthropist, but not a hero. After all, for the most part it’s only money and some time, not any personal risk. And, quite often, the athlete’s agent, or perhaps their contract, calls for them to “give back to the community” for PR purposes, so it may not even be their idea-or their desire.

That’s not to say an athlete can’t be heroic. There have been numerous other stories about athletes risking their lives to save others, and that indeed made them heroic. The story of Patrick Daniel “Pat” Tillman is probably the best known. A professional football player who left his lucrative career and enlisted in the United States Army after the September 11 attacks, Tillman served in multiple tours of combat before he was killed in action. Regardless of how that may have happened, Tillman gave his life for his country and his fellow citizens.

Save the Word for Those Who Deserve It

However, what an athlete does on the field of play is not heroic. So, journalists of all ilk, let us use the terms that are appropriate. Call them strong, and perhaps courageous in battling through injury to earn their multi-million dollar salaries. Call them fleet, graceful, powerful, acrobatic, nimble, and by all means incredibly athletic. But, please, do not call them heroic. Save that term for the people who really deserve it. And save your adulation for the people whose contributions to our society are truly heroic, and that we really should hold up on pedestals and admire, and try to emulate.

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4 Responses to “Professional Athletes Are Entertainers, Not Heroes”

  1. Harlan Hague Says:

    Hear! Hear! My wife gives me hell when I won’t watch my professional teams when they are losing. “Some fan you are,” she says. “Support your team!” I try to explain that the Sacramento Kings and Oakland A’s are not high school teams that one supports fervently, winning or losing. Pros are entertainers, I tell her, and If I’m not being entertained, I don’t need to watch. Nor can I feel sorry for a bunch of millionaires who happen not to be entertaining. “Humph,” she says.

    • Don Maker Says:

      Funny, my wife gives me hell when I’m yelling at the TV while watching sports! However, I also don’t waste time watching when the team is losing … except the amateur teams I follow. Cheers, Don

  2. Coreen Buttel Says:

    Loving the information on this web site , you have done outstanding job on the posts .

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