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Athletes as Heroes

Updated on February 26, 2018

Not all Superheroes wear capes

Not all superheroes wear capes. I’m sure this is a saying that we’ve all heard at one point or another. Growing up (or even now) was there someone that you saw as a hero? Whether it be a family member, athlete, etc? If the answer was yes, what qualities did they have that you looked up to so much?

Did you have a hero as a kid?

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A Hero is..

What is a hero? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a hero is “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities...one who shows great courage.” In today’s society with media being so relevant everywhere you go, celebrities, specifically athletes, are put under such a spotlight that it’s hard to not hear about/see their every move; whether it be on or off the court/field.

Idolizing of Athletes

Athletes are one of the most idolized groups in the entertainment industry. To younger viewers, athletes have been raised to the hero status. Are athletes fit to be heroes? A hero can be defined as a moral person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Athletes have been glamorized over the years mainly because televisions are in the homes of most Americans. Sports games have been advertised and marketed as the thing to watch on Fridays and Sundays.

Thursday Night Football Commercial

NBA Tip-Off Commercial

How do children relate?

As with partners, politicians, and peers, people tend to choose heroes similar to them. For athletic heroes, this includes similar on and off the court. For example, children tend to choose a hero from a sport they enjoy most, and, if they themselves play sports, one who plays the same position as they do. With professional sports games being so accessible to watch, it's easy for children to follow a certain player that they feel they can look up to. Children often start to imitate their every move and try to practice these moves in their own time.

Social Learning Theory

There are two ways an athlete can be influential, both positively and negatively:

  • Albert Bandura (a psychologist) proved that through a process he called “social learning theory,” a person can be affected by someone he observes, even without any contact or conversation. In Bandura’s landmark Bobo Doll Experiment, he found that children exposed to adults acting aggressively toward a giant clown doll were more likely to act aggressively.

The implications for athletes as heroes are obvious. The more a child observes an athlete acting arrogantly, unethically, or illegally, the likelier they are to embody those traits or behaviors. On the other side of that, if an athlete acts appropriately, or show exemplary behavior, he/she can serve as a positive influence on the child.

  • Another advantage or disadvantage of athletes as heroes is their ability to influence social change. Whether issues of race or gender, war or illness, athletes have often served at the front lines of activism.

Bobo Doll Experiment

Higher Figures

Many athletes understand their role as a higher figure and take a responsibility to serving their individual communities. The reason people may think they are bad role models is that the media only talks about what players do wrong. Rarely do you hear or see what each athlete does right. This leads to the only image seen as negative.

How are these athletes portrayed?

As powerful as the media is, one would think that when it comes to athletes, media outlets would talk more about the good that they do. With this being said, it's also a business and positivity doesn't sell like negativity does. People love to hear about the scandals that are going on with athletes, but for every scandal going on, there's at least 2 cases of an athlete being a positive factor in their community. Negativity sells. An example of this is a local Boston athlete. Marcus Smart, from the Boston Celtics. Since college, Smart is constantly given a bad guy perception. This perception of him is what makes the headlines. Little do people know, Smart does a lot in the Boston community. Linked below are two examples. One of a negative headline that can be found on multiple websites. The other is an article that was only able to be found on the Jimmy Fund website. Let that sink in.

Can athletes be looked at as heroes?

This is a question that has been debated for many years. Plenty of people feel that they can be considered heroes, while many think that they cannont. Let's take a look at both sides.

Why not? In an interview with Steven Ortiz, a sociology professor at Oregon State and the author of several published studies on athletes' bad behavior, explained:
"Spoiled-athlete syndrome begins early in sports socialization. From the time they could be picked out of a line-up because of their exceptional athletic ability, they've been pampered and catered to by coaches, classmates, teammates, family members and partners. As they get older, this becomes a pattern. Because they're spoiled, they feel they aren't accountable for their behaviors off the field. They're so used to people looking the other way." This ties back to media and what it does to athletes. Starting in highschool, sometimes even younger, standout athletes are often brought into the spot light because of their skill level. They don't necessarily ask for this spotlight, but it's there regardless. Every single move that is made is being watched, whether it be good or bad. While I'm not encouraging bad behavior, is it fair that some (sometimes athletes as young as 18) of these athletes are thrown into a role where they are being looked up to? They're still young and learning and dealing with life lessons themselves, but to be thrown into a role and spotlight where you have people looking up to you because of your ability can be difficult. With this being said, mistakes do happen. It's clear why many feel that athletes shouldn't be looked at as heroes.


Different Perspective

When it comes to looking at an athlete as a hero, there are different aspects to look at. One being, what do we consider a hero? Are we taking into consideration only there on field/court performance, or are we talking about off the field as well. If we are talking about on the field/court, then yes, athletes can be considered heroes. It is a field which almost everyone can relate too. We (mostly) all played sports at some age or another but the best athletes dedicate their lives to perfecting their performance, doing things we only do in our imagination, they dig deep every day. They have an inability to quit even in the toughest circumstances and it is that mindset that sets them apart from the rest, a mindset that all types of 'heroes' share. Once again, with media being as big as it is, as a kid it's hard to not see your favorite athlete as a hero. They're constantly on national television showcasing their skills to the world, something that some kids dream about daily. You look up to them in hopes that one day that will be you.

When it comes to off the field/court, there are certainly plenty of athletes who stand out in terms of their "heroics". While they may not always be showcased in the act of doing something good, sometimes they are. A prime example is in the NFL. Every year the NFL gives out a humanitarian award called the "Walter Payton Man of the Year award". This award "recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. The award was established in 1970. It was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community." J.J. Watt helped raised just over $37 Million dollars to help with hurricane relief in Houston while Chris Long (although not nominated for the award) donated his entire seasons salary to different charities/scholarship funds. If these two acts aren't considered heroic, than what is?

Below are a couple videos containing the 2017 award winner J.J. Watt, along with Chris Long.

2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award winner J.J. Watt

Chris Long interview

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