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HERO has become a misused term. What makes a real hero?

Updated on February 8, 2012


A hero

NOT heroes

Do we insult our true heroes when we throw the term "Hero" around so casually

HERO (Definition): “A person distinguished by courage and admired for brave deeds. A person who has noble qualities and has performed selfless acts. Regarded as a model or an ideal for others due to heroic actions.”

The word hero seems to get thrown around quite a lot, but is it always deserved? The question of what a ‘Hero’ is and how loosely we use the term came to my attention as I was reading the paper this morning. All the New York papers are still praising the NY Giants for their Super Bowl win and a big parade was given in their honor yesterday. One of the local papers—the NY Post—had the headline “Heroes” emblazoned across the front page. Apparently, the Giants are heroes. It reminded me a similar situation when the Yankees won the World Series and the media was calling them “Our hometown heroes”.

Of course, it’s nothing new to call sports figures ‘heroes’. You can look back as far as old songs like “Ya Gotta be a Football Hero” in 1933, which was a popular song during the depression when people were looking for heroes.

I starting thinking of the way we use the term. As with the definition above, I always associated heroism with bravery or sacrifice or selflessness. That’s why I can’t make the connection to these athletes who are paid millions of dollars to play sports. Where is the courage and sacrifice and selflessness?

The brave military men who come back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are justifiably called heroes. The firemen who sacrificed their lives on September 11th 2001 are rightfully called heroes. Policemen are sometimes called heroes. All of those examples I can understand because they risk their lives to help others, and get paid much less than athletes do.

So where is the connection? I’m trying to find the common thread between the rich professional athletes, and risk-taking soldiers or firemen.

What about Doctors? They save lives, don’t they? Yet if you asked most people whether Doctors were heroes, they’d probably say no because Doctors make so much money and don’t take any personal risks. However, doesn’t the same thing apply to athletes? Don’t they get paid exorbitant amounts of money without risking their lives? So if a doctor isn’t a hero, why are the NY Giants or the Yankees?

I recall a situation that happened during Operation Desert Storm where a pilot crashed behind enemy lines and managed to survive there for several days until he was rescued. After he got home, I read an article that said we shouldn’t call him a ‘hero’ because all he did was save his own life. The article said it was self-preservation, not heroism. So that leads me to wonder, if a soldier is not heroic for saving his own life (which was put in danger in the service of his country) why are Alex Rodriguez or Eli Manning called heroes for collecting a multi-million dollar paycheck to pay games that kids play for fun?

So what do you think makes a hero? Should a quarterback or a first basemen be considered heroic brothers to the 9-11 firemen or the Gulf War veterans? I don’t think so. Do you?



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    • profile image

      James Christopher Field 5 months ago

      I doubt that "professional sportspeople" [an oxymoron, my sports professor told me in college] can be justifibly be termed heros.

      In my opinion, a hero is one who does something requiring courage under circumstances that envolve risk to themselves and benifit to others. The only expected benefit of bravery under duress shold be respect and, perhaps, some acknowledgement.

      I have, possibly, saved a few lives. I used recognised first aid techniques to prevent possible deaths. I was not a hero.

      I used my car blanket to protect crash victims from shock.

      I did, once risk the integrety of my mobile phone, when I led two children to safety from a swiftly rising spring tide in west Wales. my 'phone was busted by the salt water but the SIM had gold contacts. Heroic engineering. I only risked getting wet!

      And finally... When newspapers refer to suffering children with dreadful (often fatal) illnesses, the term "heroic" or "brave" Is TOTALLY inappropriate! Innocent victims are not heros purely because of their suffering.

      A soldier, firefighter, police officier or teacher or just a citizen who puts themselve AT RISK to do the right thing and helps somebody can truly be classified as heroic.

      I was never a hero except for risking my mobile 'phone!

    • profile image

      Ggonzalez435 3 years ago

      Well said Rob

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks. Glad we agree.


    • pkumargaya1987 profile image

      pkumargaya1987 6 years ago from New Delhi

      Agree with you man. i like your thoughts.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Beth; I agree that a heroic person places someone else's well being ahead of their own, like a firefighter in a blaze.

      That was a very heroic act by the homeless man. Just because he doesn't have a home doesn't mean he can't be a hero.

      Thanks for reading,


    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Bruce; You make a good point that 'idol' is a better way to describe atheltes than 'hereos'. Idol is short for idolizing, which is a personal feeling. You can idolize anyone. But heroism is a different animal.

      Thanks for stopping by and its always good to hear from you.


    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 6 years ago from Tennesee

      Robwrite, wonderful Hub and questions.

      Personally, I think a hero is someone who places another person's safety or well-being before that of their own.

      There was an incident in my area not too long ago when a homeless man, known as a drunkard and someone who had been jailed many times in his life, jumped onto a train track to save a little girl from being hit by a train. People can call the man what they may, but at that moment he was a hero.

      Voting up on this hub!

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 6 years ago from Virginia

      Good points in your hub. I think professional athletes are idols and not heroes. Using your definition....there is no way Eli Manning can be considered a hero as he demonstrates very little bravery or courage when playing football....the only thing brave is they could get hurt...but I think the players fear the lack of a big paycheck versus injury concerns. That being said....players like Eli can and should be looked up to based on their skills they possess on the football field. Thus we have an idol and not a hero....that being said....I like the Manning brothers of the world...just not as heroes. Voted up and thought provoking(if we had that button).

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Colin; Kids are prone to hero worship and they go through a phase where they look up to the Micheal Jordan's of the world. Hopefully they'll grow out of it. But when the media lables an overpaid sports figure as a "hero", theres something wrong.

      I'm sure your cats love you as their hero, Colin.

      Always great to hear from you.


    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      .....well you're my hero Rob - and that was even BEFORE you wrote this hub suject in order to enable us into debate - pretty hard to tell a small child about what you just discussed and put forward so well in this hub - there is a time and a place for everything - hopefully that child will grow up and be a hero to his children as his dad was a hero to him - not every child as you know has that luxury or luck in their lives - I am a hero to my cats and I am a hero to the countless women who lust after my body - er, sorry, my love poe-tree - lol - and if a kid wants to call a ball player a hero, go ahead and let him -because he will soon find out when his house is burning down and the true hero, like you so rightly said, will come and save his little sister and put out the fire.

      lake erie time 8:49pm and another ROBWRITE classic for the ages and to be posted on Facebook page with my honor and pleasure sir!

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Its a simplistic idea to "just say no" because that would require everyone in the world to stop being violent and that, sadly, is not going to happen. If one person is ready to fight, the rest have to be ready to fight back. So as long as governments keep making enemies who want to attack, citizens will always be forced to fight. blame the governments for making enemies. Soldiers don't make enemies, governments do.

    • innersmiff profile image

      James Smith 6 years ago from UK

      Yes but what would happen if everybody refused to sign up? And if everybody refused if there was a draft, they can't put everybody in prison. All of the soldiers are morally culpable, just as the Nazis were after the Holocaust. The fact that they were on orders was no defence.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Yes, war is a horrible thing. Heroism seldom comes from any happy situation. Whether it's a fireman in a burning building, a cop facing criminals or a soldier in battle, these are terrible situations but that doesn't mean people can't act heroically in these situations. I saw in New York after 9-11 that a terrible event can bring out acts of selflessness and courage from others.

      The fault lies with the governments who constantly declare war against each other. Not the people who are sent to fight.


    • innersmiff profile image

      James Smith 6 years ago from UK

      We can argue whether or not any particular soldier has the choice to fight, but we can't argue whether they are heroes or not. Why choose to put yourself in a situation where your head could get blown off? That is terrifically irresponsible on your part, especially if you have family at home who would much rather see your head unharmed.

      War, whether you think it is 'just' or not, should never be considered heroic. It is sometimes necessary, but always a crime. The West should hang its head in shame for allowing all of the wars in the last century to happen, and for continuing to allow slaughters in the middle-east to happen.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Flora;I'm happy to see any athletes using their wealth for good causes, although that's different than heroism.

      I'm glad I never had to go to war because as a Buddhist, it would be against my principles to shoot anyone. But I can admire the courage it takes for a soldier who is drafted or who enlists to go into battle.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Flora.


    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I have *never* equated professional athletes with being heroes for their being athletes. However, a lot of them take the money they make and do a lot of charity work. That I admire.

      as for the soldier reference in the first comment, in Nazi Germany there was NO option to be a conscientious objector. You either went to war or your family was killed instead. Then there is the fact that some countries are attacked. Should US just pretend that Japan didn't bomb Pearl Harbor? Sometimes you are drafted and there is NO choice. As a disabled person, I would never pass the medical. I know this. And because of the fact that I will never be in combat, I am careful to not pretend I have any idea what it is like to have someone's head shot off right beside you. It is very easy for someone who will never experience combat to criticize. Be glad you do not live in Nepal like Vinaya, a fellow hubber of ours.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hello innersmiff; I'm a Buddhist and a pacifist but I put the blame of war on the governments who fail to keep the peace and who send the troops out to fight. The soldiers themselves are not there by choice and they aren't to blame.

      But thanks for your opinion on the matter.


    • innersmiff profile image

      James Smith 6 years ago from UK

      I would put them in this order:

      1. Proponents of liberty

      2. Fire service people, Doctors

      3. Artists

      4000. Soldiers

      There is nothing heroic by leaving your family to go and kill people. The real hero is the one who sees the mindless slaughter going on in the middle-east in the name of 'protecting our assets' and then says 'No'. It takes real bravery to stand up to the demagogues who say that the military is 'protecting our freedoms'. Going over to another country and blowing their kids up is not going to convince them to leave us alone.


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