The Problem With Hero Worship

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By now, you’ve all seen the Ray Rice tape of him brutally hitting his now-wife. You’ve also seen the subsequent backlash, including a possible cover-up scandal by the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell, and a number of other individuals. Then the floodgates exploded with more cases of domestic violence, including Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who is now facing a second accusation of child abuse. People, especially fans of certain teams (and football fans in general) just don’t know how to react. They’re obviously disgusted by the abhorrent, horrible actions these individuals have committed, and they’re even more horrified by the fact that some of these crimes were seemingly covered up. On the other hand, people just don’t want to believe their sports heroes could actually do something so heinous.

Here’s where we have to make a distinction about what I’m actually talking about. I did not come here to talk about domestic violence or child abuse or anything of the sort. I certainly didn’t come here to defend any of the people I mentioned above. On the contrary, actually. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty,” but if any of them ARE guilty of their accusations, they deserve everything that’s coming to them, because striking a woman or a child are two of the most scumbag things a person can do, period. End of story.

This is about how we perceive our heroes, especially in the realms of entertainment and sports. Unfortunately, we hold these people in such high regard that we forget one of the most important things about them: they’re people. People just like you and me. People with flaws, people with faults, and people with demons.

Again, remember that I’m not here to defend domestic violence or child abuse of any kind. There is no excuse for this behavior no matter which way you slice it. The point is, when you watch someone score an 83-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of a playoff game, or crush a standup set, or perform a new smash-hit song, or be the funniest person you’ve ever heard on the radio, you don’t really know him or her at all.

Personally, one of my heroes is Johnny Carson, much like countless other comedians, writers, and personalities who have followed in his footsteps. The effect he had on television and the careers he helped build thanks to booking people as guests on “The Tonight Show” can still be felt to this day. But off-camera, he was a very shy man with a number of doubts and insecurities, who allegedly had a drinking problem that led to a DUI and three volatile marriages, which were followed by contentious divorces. He absolutely held grudges, one of which he had against Joan Rivers. That grudge lasted until his death, and it had a major, negative impact on her career. But very few people remember that Johnny; they remember the Johnny who tucked Americans in night after night for 30 years. The man who believed that no person should go to bed without laughing. The man whose smile and warm, midwestern demeanor made him the idol of millions.

On the flipside of that, what about another individual I greatly admire, Howard Stern? People think he’s a pervert, an adulterer, and a menace, and that he should be banned from the airways forever for being indecent and talking about sex. However, everyone who has actually met him and knows him says he’s one of the nicest, sweetest, kindest people to ever walk the planet. His charity work with organizations such as North Shore Animal League, a leading no-kill animal rescue and adoption group, is incredibly extensive, and he even delivered the eulogy at Joan Rivers’ funeral. But instead of knowing who he really is with his generosity and kindness, people think he’s a monster behind a microphone who was born to corrupt the youth of America. Go figure.

That is precisely the issue with blindly worshipping or supporting anyone–especially a celebrity, a sports hero, a politician, or anyone else in the public eye. We don’t know these people at all. We forget they’re people who put on their pants one leg at a time, have bills, pay their taxes (some of them) and have to eat, sleep, and shit just like the rest of us. They have urges, dreams, and desires, just like we do. They’re not gods. They’re men and women. Sometimes that results in people who are wonderful, kind, and generous, like Joan Rivers, Howard Stern, or even LeBron James, a man who, rather than be recognized for his on-court talents and off-the-court generosity, was called a traitor and had his jersey burned in the streets like an effigy to a fascist dictator.

Unfortunately, other times, this results in shock when a video surfaces of a star athlete dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of an elevator, or allegations come out about a player who is considered to be one of the nicest guys in the NFL brutally hitting his kids. That’s the point. You never know exactly what you’re getting when you idolize and admire a media personality, an athlete, or a celebrity. You have no idea who those people really are when they’re off-stage, off-screen, behind closed doors, and away from the cameras and the public eye.

We have to realize that we don’t know these people at all. If we don’t know them, we can’t really trust them, can we? And if we can’t trust them, can we really call them our heroes?

That’s up to you to decide. Blind faith can be a very dangerous, disheartening thing.

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