Friday, December 13, 2013

The Impact of Sports Heroes’ Rise and Fall on Today’s Society

Joseph Hastings
Narrative and Technology
Final Paper

The Impact of Sports Heroes’ Rise and Fall on Today’s Society

            Sports stars become heroes when they are admired for their athletic accomplishments. As a society, we yearn to feel a connection to them, bask in their success, and pattern our lives after them. When they succeed we share in their success, but when they slip up we are quick to scrutinize them. Sports heroes have become a permanent fixture in society. Children are inspired by greatness; starting at a very young age they look to sports stars to give them faith in the reality of greatness. Not all heroes are sports stars however. Parents, community leaders, and even imaginary super heroes can act as a true hero for kids. Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth focuses on the life of Jimmy Corrigan from early childhood all the way through adulthood. In the first few pages of the book it is apparent that Jimmy has a strong connection with Superman in both positive and negative aspects. Superman has a huge impact on Jimmy throughout his life, very similar to sports heroes in our own lives. Sports heroes can also have a negative impact on society. Throughout history there have been many scandals dealing with sports heroes. Drug consumption, illegal gambling, domestic violence, and even murder have all been crimes committed by heroes who once appeared to be flawless individuals. The dark side of heroes may possibly have a bigger impact on society than their good side. What causes heroes to suddenly turn when they already seeming have the perfect life? And what effect does this have on society?
            Herbert Marcuse stated in his book One Dimensional Man “people do not have an inner dimension that is separate from the behavior of the rest of the people”. This serves true when dealing with people needing sports heroes. Kids of every generation dream of one day hitting the game winning homerun or scoring the game winning touchdown or goal just like their hero. This feeling sticks with us to adulthood when we can look back and remember the fun childhood memories of playing with friends and imitating your hero. We never lose our childhood; it hangs in our minds forever (Sports). The impact our heroes have on our lives can become ingrained in who we are. Kids look to athletes for hope in the direst situations and one day hope to be like their hero. There is an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer promises a sick boy that the New York Yankees' Paul O'Neill will hit two homeruns for him, which of course makes the boy extremely happy. Even today, athletes such as football greats Boomer Esiason, Kurt Warner, and Doug Flutie take regular visits to the hospital to visit sick children and make their day brighter (Sports). Athletes in our society often serve as an escape from the misfortunes of childhood.
            In Jimmy Corrigan’s case, his hero Superman helped him fill the void of not having a dad in his life. Chris Ware depicts a story on a day to day basis of the unusual family, showing the problem of having an absent father, which is very prevalent in today’s world. Keeping a family together is not as valued today as it used to be in the past (Marcuse). Due to his lack of a father figure Jimmy fills the void with his fascination in Superman. In the opening pages Jimmy wears his own mask and even goes to meet Superman at an autograph signing. Things take a turn for the worst, however, as Jimmy’s mom sleeps with Superman. The next morning Jimmy is eating breakfast as Superman tries to sneak out of the house unseen. In order to keep Jimmy’s suspicions down Superman gives Jimmy his mask (which Jimmy thinks is the coolest thing ever) and quickly leaves. It is at this moment that Jimmy can look back on in his life and realize what his hero was really like. Even in the real world professional athletes act this way. The ability of to engage star-crazed women in sexual encounters makes many athletes prone to sexual promiscuity (Athletes). Starts such as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods, and even Michael Jordan have all had affairs. Still, when looking at the despicable acts done by athletes, affairs are just the tip of the ice burg.   
            Sport heroes know that there is a responsibility that comes from being a professional athlete. Athletes consistently pay a price for being in the media fish bowl as their flaws are played up, giving them an image that does not conform to the image of heroes of yesteryear. In most cases it is very difficult for the public to take their heroes off of the pedestal we have placed them on. None the less, under the media spotlight, we are forced, somewhat grudgingly, to recognize that many of our sports heroes are lacking. Through the years famous athletes, many of whom were heroes, have engaged in contemptible actions. These actions are not new by any means. In the early 1900’s there was the famous Black Sox case in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were paid to throw the 1919 World Series. The White Sox were a much stronger team than the Cincinnati Reds, but all eight players were paid off and the Reds won (Athletes). Eventually all eight players were banned from baseball for life, but the damage had been done. Almost overnight, eight athletes in their prime went from being looked at as heroes and superstars to some of the most hated humans in America just for the money. In most cases, athlete’s actions tarnish their careers forever. Look at Pete Rose for an example. Rose played baseball from 1963-1986. Rose is the MLB’s all-time leader in hits and games played, and even has three World Series rings (Athletes). Rose would have been an easy first ballot hall of famer if it were not for his off the field actions. Rose was caught betting on baseball during his playing and coaching careers. Now Rose is banned from baseball and he lost much of his support from his fans. Rose disappointed millions of people and his actions still loom large in many people’s minds. I can remember my dad telling me how much of an impact that Rose’s actions had on him. Millions of kids wanted to be like Rose but now one of the greatest players of all time would never get to be in the hall of fame and never have the same support. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.”
            As history continued, the sports scandals only grew. In 1994 there was one of the biggest scandals in history. O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend in what some described as the most publicized criminal trial in American history (Athletes). Simpson was acquitted on all crimes solely because of his superstar defense team, but many people to this day believe Simpson is guilty of the crime. Once again an athlete who was once looked at as a hero by thousands fell from grace and is now hated by most. Simpson is just one of the many sports stars to commit such a horrid crime.    
            In today’s world, athletes commit self-destructive actions all too often. The major scandal now is performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Each year players are caught using PEDs and their careers are ruined because of it. Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time homerun leader used PEDs and he also will never get into the hall of fame. Bonds ruined baseball for many people and he has certainly lost his respect from many people. Famous athletes of today of all professional sports such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rodger Clemens, Dwayne Bowe, Shawne Merriman, and Julius Peppers have all tested positive for PEDs tarnishing their careers forever. What makes athletes act in this manner and destroy their careers and reputations?
            We often see our sports heroes as supermen, but they are human, with human imperfections, and they cannot always handle stardom (Sports). Many superstars do not want to be burdened with the pressure or responsibility of being a role model. Charles Barkley once famously said, “I’m not a role model,” refuting the assumption that an athlete’s job includes exemplary behavior in their personal life. Comments like this make it easy to see how many sports heroes disappoint their fans every year. Some athletes cannot handle the pressure of having thousands of fans and being under constant media pressure, and their actions reflect this. As baseball star Jim Bouton pointed out, “athletes are not special people, they are people with special skills” (Sports). Athlete can go through the same troubles as anyone else; the main difference is that the entire world knows about their problems.
            Many people have speculated what causes athletes to take part in actions that ruin their careers and lose their fans. One thing that is certain is that athletes have media pressure on their shoulders at all times, something that the average person cannot understand. Having millions of people looking up to athletes gives them the feeling that they need to be the perfect. This stress builds up in athletes and in some cases causes them to do the unthinkable. Even looking at Superman in Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth this idea holds true. Superman appears to be untouchable. The man of steel can fly, has superhuman strength, and only has one weakness. Superman grows weak when in the presence of kryptonite. Another kryptonite of Superman may be all of the stress from his millions of fans and this stress may have pushed him off the edge (literally). In Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth Jimmy Corrigan is sitting at his desk at work when to his amazement he looks up and sees Superman on the roof of the building across the street. Then Superman does the unthinkable and jumps off the edge, killing himself. Jimmy is in shock about what just happened and he remembers this moment for the rest of his life. Superman’s downfall has an enormous impact on Jimmy’s life very similar to sports hero’s downfalls.
            Athletes have been conditioned from an early age to be self-absorbed causing our heroes to be deficient in empathy. The capacity for empathy is a hallmark of emotional maturity. Most athletes do not have the ability to understand other people’s feelings, experiences, and point of views on the level that other members of society can. Looking at Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick depicts an entire world lacking empathy. The real people need to use an empathy box to attain empathy and the androids have no empathy. The world is a disaster because of the lack of empathy. Crimes are committed on a daily basis and the world is in turmoil. Without empathy, society cannot continue as it was meant to be. Looking at the downfall in athletes, this does not seem to be truer. Athletes are part of a system that treats them as objects, thus athletes tend to treat others as objects (Sports). Athletes do not realize the repercussions of their actions until well after and when it is too late. Another factor that affects athletes and plays a part in their downfalls, is that they think they are above society and rules do not apply to them. Sports stars expect preferential treatment. When Michael Irvin was implicated in a 1996 scandal involving strippers and drugs, his initial response to police was the familiar “Do you know who I am?” Society looks at their hero’s actions and affects us in many ways.     
            America needs sports heroes. We look to our heroes in times of tragedy to help our minds escape. During the Vietnam War, Paul Simon’s hit song “Mrs. Robinson” included the lyrics, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” In times of crisis and angst, America turns to sports heroes to heal our wounds. I will never forget going to the first Philadelphia Phillies baseball game after the attacks on 9-11. That day the Phillies played the Atlanta Braves and it did not matter if you were a Phillies or Braves fan, we were all Americans. The athletes helped us forget about the terrible actions for a brief time and America got through it. Heroes are a necessity in our lives and when they have their downfalls society is affected.
            A heightened sense of entitlement and runaway egos can lead to lapses in judgment that set the stage for destructive behavior (Sports). Until recently, society was somewhat lenient and forgiving toward athletes who self-destruct. Now with athlete’s scandals becoming all too common, it is becoming harder and harder for people to be so forgiving. Athletes play far too big of a role in many lives, acting as heroes to thousands. When a hero tarnishes their reputation, it takes a toll on their fans. Society is forced to recognize that our heroes are not what they were thought to be, and this can be painful. When our heroes’ image becomes tainted, we often feel brought down by them. To the diehard fans, depression sinks in and lives are changed. The hero that people once dreamed of wanting to be has fallen from grace, and now we question everything. It makes us trust and forgive less. We keep our heroes’ actions in the back of our minds and let them play a huge role on our lives. Jimmy Corrigan never forgets what happened to Superman. At the ending of the book, when Jimmy’s life has become very depressing, he returns to the spot where Superman killed himself. The book ends with Jimmy looking up at the building and the reader is left to speculate whether Jimmy kills himself. Superman’s actions have left such a lasting memory on Jimmy that he considers to take his life just as Superman did. Not only does a hero’s downfall affect people’s views, but it also teaches kids the wrong things.
            Hero’s downfalls have many negative impacts on our lives. When kids see their heroes using drugs or cheating in the game, they still sometimes want to be like their heroes. Some fans do whatever they can to still be like their heroes, ignoring the negative impacts these action will have on their lives. From 1998 to today steroid sales have increased by 1000% showing that the negative impact goes much farther than just emotions (Athletes).  How a hero acts plays a role on kids as well. If a kid’s hero is cocky and lacks sportsmanship, then the actions of the kid will generally be reflected. Heroes play a major role in our lives, and the actions of only a select few can affect our view on athletes as a whole.
            There are over 16,000 professional athletes in America, many of whom are heroes and act as a role model should, but all it takes is one person to destroy the reputation of many. Some people believe that America is able to forget about their heroes actions very easy however. In today’s time period crimes are committed so often that it is easy to move on and block the criminal out of our minds. It is the times that this cannot be done, when the crime is too substantial to forget, that society is affected. Our heroes’ crimes grab the attention of thousands. The media does not let us forget athlete’s downfalls very easily, the actions may be dismal and affect society but eventually we have to move on.
            In today’s society, athletes and even superheroes play a big role. These people, real or imaginary are looked at by millions as an escape from reality. At one point in our lives we all have that one person that we dream of being like. We mimic their actions and do as they do. However, when our heroes turn and show us their dark side it can be devastating. Times have changed, society now is far different than it has ever been before. The media has a huge impact on society, and are able to highlight every athlete’s imperfection. Sometimes however, athletes simply cannot handle the pressure of being a hero to millions. Other times athletes never wanted to be a hero in the first place. Athletes are different breed of people; they were raised with the thought that they are better than everyone else. All of these characteristics together add up to make athlete’s negative impacts on society, and more importantly the people that look at them as heroes, devastating.       


Dick, Philip K., and Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York:     Ballantine, 1996. Print.

Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. London: Sphere, 1968. Web.

Teitelbaum, Stanley H. Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side: Sex, Drugs, and Cover-ups. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010. Print.

Teitelbaum, Stanley H. Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2005.          Print.

Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.



Tom Cox said...

found your paper really interesting,you have some insightful views and comment. I am currently writing a dissertation in the UK about the highs and lows of sports stars and weather the media prefer scandal to tribulation. i'd love to get your thoughts and use you in my dissertation. If you are interested my e-mail is, name is Tom. thanks

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