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art/Eric Spitler



Really, in an age of such uncompassionate cynicism and incredulity, where you're more inclined to punch a stranger in the mouth than kiss 'em on the cheek, it's thoroughly difficult to find people so worthy of our praise and admiration that we can place them on a pedestal of worship. Hardly anyone in today's politics will likely ever be placed on that pedestal, since every person in that realm is under the watchful eye of the half that disagrees. Hardly anyone in the corporate world will be seen by very many as a hero, because the common man has an intense and well-placed mistrust of the rich and powerful.

We need action, daunting pitfalls, and obstacles to the prize besetting combatants before we can have heroes. Granted, we're seeing a lot of action in politics these days, but it's an extremely abnormal spike. Even before all the real action started there, CNN was shamelessly reducing the electoral college count to a sporting event, even going as far as to put a small electoral votes score box in the corner of the screen like it was a frickin' football game. WHEN GORE WAS UP 260-246, I WAS THINKING, "WOW! ALL BUSH NEEDS IS FOUR MORE TOUCHDOWNS AND HE'S GOT IT!"

Stock markets give business a sort of scoreboard so that we can invent action and do play-by-plays on CNBC. But nonetheless, very rarely does an individual player emerge from within the corporate world to energize and fascinate us.

Heroes in our movies and stories of old have been brave adventurers, risking life and limb to complete a quest. Be it Perseus rescuing Andromeda from certain death, Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star with his pair of well-placed proton torpedoes, or John Goodman rescuing everyone in Arachnophobia, heroes have traditionally had to capture not just our hearts, but our attention with slam-bang action.

Which begs the question -- where are we to find action in American culture? In movies and books, yes, but the characters in those worlds are fictional. Where do we find real action among real people, genuine American heroes that we can truly stand behind and marvel in their superhuman and physically strenuous accomplishments without deriding them for their personal beliefs or social status? I can think of only two places: war and sports. And when there is no war going on, well, then there's sports -- the fabricated stage for limitless action and the peacetime hero factory.

I'm certainly not immune from any of its power. Something about seeing a bunch of guys wearing uniforms taps into a special gland in my brain. I was glued to the TV set during the World Series this year. Of course, I live in New Jersey, so I was pretty close to the big New York battle. But often when I watch sports, I have moments when I step outside of myself and wonder exactly what it is that sports do for us. No doubt, they entertain. Sports remove the pointless, empty day-to-day existence from our minds and replace it with structure and something to look forward to. But is it more than that? I notice commentators kicking around the word hero as recklessly as the news media misuses the word tragedy. There must be some real heavy shit going down if so many heroes are emerging.

Many players certainly attain the rightful title of hero when they make philanthropic contributions to the communities that made them what they are. Selflessness and charity are virtues to be admired in any person. But does this exude from their accomplishments in the sports themselves, or from the players' use of their celebrity status with which they've been endowed by being fortunate enough to excel at these fabricated games? Essentially, are they heroes because they're good at a game, or because they have a generous spirit and the spoils of the sports world just gave them the means to contribute?

Before we label our sports figures as heroes and role models for our children, intense scrutiny should be placed upon their life off the field. Often shielded from general knowledge, the criminal background of sports players is quite disturbing. According to Jim Edwards at (in a January 2000 article), 11% of the players in last year's Rams-Titans Superbowl have been convicted of crimes, including soliciting prostitutes, assault, and manslaughter. In addition, the 1998 book Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL shows that 21 percent of all 1996-1997 NFL players had been arrested or indicted at some time in their life. In fact, when I typed the words "sports players arrested" into the Yahoo search engine, it returned 11,200 matches, offering pages and pages of incidents involving sports players. And that doesn't even cover all the illegitimate children fathered by NBA players.

I might be asking for too much, but this passionate love affair that the entire world has with sports must abate. I'm not calling for the destruction of sports, because I mentioned before that I enjoy being a spectator. We just have to lose the whole masculine, competitive "I refuse to lose" mindset, the corporate worship of it, and our opinion of it as the salvation for our children. The chances are very slim that any one child will be profound enough at any one sport to go professional, and so a sports figure, leaving aside their lack of genuine heroism, is not necessarily someone that a child should emulate.

In the grand scheme of life, sports are an amusing diversion. But all too often they become a distraction, and a little bit larger than they deserve to be. Their brand of heroism is safe. It's cotton candy for the soul. It offers little for the advancement of human knowledge and feeling. Nothing is ventured, so nothing is truly gained.

That being said, I'm gonna go watch the rest of the Giants game now.

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