Are Sports Stars Heroes?
Sports heroes have been around as long as two people decided to compete against one another. The ancient civilizations had massive sports stars. In Ancient Greece the best Greek athletes would test their skills in events like wrestling, boxing and running just as modern sports stars do today. Ancient Greek Olympic athletes, such as the wrestler Milo or the great boxer Theogenes (unbeaten for twenty two years), were revered by their regions and the entire Greek nation over 2,500 years ago.
Elite athletes can fulfill a vital social function, they can provide exhilaration, faith, inspiration, stress release and a sense of national identity and pride.
Sports heroes can act as a replacement for war heroes in times of peace. A nations or communities desire for heroes to cheer, motivate and unite them still continues in peacetime, sporting prowess provides the chance for peacetime heroes to appear.
When spectators identify with the nation represented by the athlete or team, it can raise communal esteem through said athletes sporting achievements. It also raises the self-esteem of the individuals within the nation. These benefits result from the athletes physical aptitude, endurance, mental grit and focus on a scale those watching could never hope to achieve.
If heroism can be defined as ‘doing something of outstanding benefit to one's community which most would find impossible to execute’, then elite sports stars meet the criteria.
Can sports people be defined as real heroes? If the epitome of a hero is someone who sacrifices or risks their wellbeing to save others, then how can an athlete compete with the possessor, say, of a Purple Heart for such a lofty title? Michael Jordan, Manny Pacquiao or the soccer player who scores a winning penalty in a shootout are often called heroes. But some argue that this is too easy a use of the word. After all, sports stars may be called 'heroes', but they do not display 'heroism' as we understand it.
A sports star cannot be a hero on the same level as a war veteran, yet a community needs heroes to cheer, motivate and unite them in peacetime. The sporting arena provides the chance for these peacetime heroes to come to the forefront. The people a society chooses as its ‘heroes’ reflect that societies values and needs.
However, some athletes do show real physical, mental and moral courage to reach sporting heights sometimes to the detriment of their career. Take Jesse Owens for instance who endured terrible racist abuse at the Berlin Olympics and still went on to win four gold medals. Some sportsmen have used their events as an opportunity to make a political gesture requiring moral courage. Such as the Black Power salute conducted by African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City.
Possibly the most famous occurrence of moral courage concerns heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. In 1967 Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army and was stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali, a Muslim, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service. With the U.S.A at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed but many think the three year ban robbed Ali of the best years of his career when he would have been in his prime.
Do you consider some sporting achievements heroic?
For The Folks Back Home
Athletes' motivations should also be considered into the debate. When they go for the gold, are they doing it for themselves or for the spectators and their nation ? Are their actions selfish or selfless? A relationship exists between athletes and their fans in that the fans will support favorite athletes and teams with great devotion. Most sports stars in turn also consider fans an important part of their social support, having a major influence on their confidence and performance. So it could be argued some really are doing it "for the folks back home."
Not all sports ‘heroes’ are considered as such for very long. Some cynically exploit the economic and political opportunities sporting heroes provide. Others once considered heroic suffer huge downturns in public opinion. Possibly the most public case would be that of cyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong was seen to be hero to millions after overcoming cancer and going on to win the Tour De France a record seven times. However he was later to admit to have been taking performance enhancing drugs throughout his career and therefore a cheat.
The debate whether to consider sports stars heroes may just be a matter of semantics, in which the word "heroes" includes sportsmen or not. People decide what words mean, right? Yes, but there's more to it than that. Millions of people throughout the world do consider elite sports stars heroes. They see these individuals who push themselves throughout their lives, some at great sacrifice so they might reach the heights of their chosen fields, to be worthy of admiration and genuinely heroic.
Saying elite sports stars either are or aren't heroes is not simply a game of words. Beyond any debate over word meanings, the fundamental root of the argument lies in the basic concept of heroism itself, not everyone agrees on whether the concept should apply to athletes. Many consider these athletes to be undeniably heroic but possible equally as many others do not. With sacrifices great and many, every elite competitor perseveres through a long series of challenges. Challenges that leave behind others who dream of one day wearing the gold medal but do not have the desire to push themselves beyond what are considered normal limits. Gold medalists require persistence, determination, and years of learned skills to carry them forward into competition for the mere chance to accomplish what many consider to be the most challenging and most prestigious athletic achievements on the planet.
Because sports is a field which almost everyone can relate to. We have (mostly) all played sports at some age or another but the best athletes dedicate their lives to perfecting their performance. Doing things we can only imagination ourselves replicating. They have an inability to quit even in the hardest circumstances and it is that mindset that sets them apart from the rest of society, a mindset that all types of 'heroes' share.