The League

Doug Farrar

Doug Farrar

A staff writer

What Is a Hero?


Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Heroes aren't what they used to be. The days are long gone when Babe Ruth could miss time with a "stomachache" that was actually one of ten possible excess-related issues. When Mickey Mantle's alcohol abuse and extramarital dalliances would be glossed over by a baseball media grateful for their jobs. When Paul Hornung and Alex Karras could run afoul of the NFL's bylaws on gambling, and get off with a year's suspension that's barely remembered.

Is that a good thing? Is it better to have detailed, blow-by-blow accounts of the lives of athletes we don't even know? Is it right for us to assume what Steve McNair's surviving family is thinking and feeling, and express moral outrage on their behalf?

I'm not really sure. I was raised by a single mother, so I have an acute sensitivity to the subject of fathers who don't meet their commitments. But I also feel uncomfortable in the face of the moral admonitions after his death. Because I don't know the circumstances of McNair's distance from his family, and as repugnant as it sounds for a husband and father to abandon his obligations for an irresponsible fling ... well, I just don't know how to do that and walk away feeling better about it. Because we all have our foibles - those moments in our lives that we hope will be more than balanced out by the better angels of our nature.

In Los Angeles, a man who served a 50-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs is being cheered in a way that would insinuate that not only did his transgressions didn't exist, but that if they did exist, they didn't matter. And in that same town, thousands of people gathered to memorialize a man who once gave a family over $20 million to eradicate a child molestation charge. We make deals with our heroes and our role models all the time, because sainted perfection is so very difficult to find.

We make deals. I'll set aside what you did off the field to remember your accomplishments, because it enhances my enjoyment of the game. What you did will never truly be separate from your legacy, but I can compartmentalize to whatever degree satisfies me. That kind of deal. We can also make the kind of deal where your achievements are lost forever in the hurricane-force winds of personal fallibility.

Neither bargain really reflects the human condition - we're all imperfect. We all lie and we all hurt others and we all cut corners and we all do things that we regret. We simply hope that with every day of improvement and honesty and giving and grace, we can set ourselves further apart from that monster.

In that regard, I don't see Steve McNair as a role model. I see him as one of us. Brilliant, but entirely flawed, and every human brings different definitions of those two concepts. McNair was an amazing athlete who gave to the community and mentored many less fortunate. At the same time, he was an adulterer who made the most literal fatal mistake possible. You can have one Steve McNair without the other if you want, but I'll take both and try to reconcile the two. Maybe I'll learn something about the two sides of myself.

By Doug Farrar  |  July 8, 2009; 6:19 AM ET  | Category:  Baltimore Ravens , Crime , Doug Farrar , Tennessee Titans Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Not My Hero | Next: Affirming the Best in McNair


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Thank you. During our last presidential election we touted one man a hero who had left his ailing wife to be with another woman but because he was a POW in Vienam he is considered a hero. The same goes for the former Mayor of NYC. A man who is considered a hero for standiing calm during the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks yet he also abandoned an ailing spouse for another woman. Personally i dont consider either heros or role models but lots of people do. No difference in regards to athletes.

Posted by: ged0386 | July 8, 2009 2:28 PM

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