The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Heroes Are Humans


Steve McNair's untimely passing last weekend has left the world a worse place. We need heroes like him in our society, on our planet and in our lives. He, like all of us, was not perfect but it is truly a shame that, due to the circumstances of his death, he will not be remembered for all of the wonderful things he did, all of the lives he touched and all of the good that he accomplished.

As a society we look upon our heroes in sports, politics and entertainment as royalty. We all yearn for the fairytale lives of these fantastically talented people and forget that they are human beings like the rest of us. As models of the unattainable we emulate and revere them while turning a blind eye on their flaws -- not the ones that diminish their heroism but rather the flaws that prove their humanity.

Thomas Jefferson, the Father of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves and was also believed to be an adulator. Babe Ruth, "The Sultan of Swat," hit majestic homeruns and also caroused and drank with the best of them. Franklin D. Roosevelt, arguably one of the top three presidents of all time and certainly of the twentieth century, also was an adulterer. John F. Kennedy, the father of our "new Society" and the president who shepherded the Civil Rights Act, was known to cavort with Marylyn Monroe and seedy mobsters. Muhammad Ali, the "greatest of all time" may have also been the greatest philanderer of all time. The list goes on and on.

I remember one of the greatest football players and morally upstanding gentleman to have ever played in the NFL, Barry Sanders, was castigated early on in his professional career for fathering a child out of wedlock, Barry Jr. As opposed to allowing the public to determine the morality, Barry focused his attention on being the best possible parent to BJ and raising a quality young man who is about to embark on a college career. For that he should be commended, even though the exact circumstances of the conception might not be socially acceptable. Barry never let people judge him for being human, he would rather be judged as a great father. In the end that is what matters.

All of these super stars of history were people of incredible talent, fantastic accomplishments, and, at times, incredible human frailties. They lived in an era when their everyday lives were not scrutinized through the 24-hour news lens. In fact, the social mores of the time predicated that the media actually looked the other way on their private lives. Yet all of these great Americans remain, as they should be, revered and respected.

Today, there are no longer private lives. Everything any super star does appears on youtube, and even the evening news. Our heroes are no longer afforded the ability to be imperfect or to make mistakes. While we should never condone immoral or illegal acts, we need to keep everything in context and perspective before we judge.

Steve McNair's passing and the circumstances around it are tragic on many levels. But who are we, who share those same flaws, to judge? Do we not gain more by remembering what Steve McNair did to help those around him? He was a man who lived his life by one creed, to always think about other people when he made decisions. This is how his teammates, friends and family will remember him and how he should be remembered. Steve will be missed for having left us way to early, and our thoughts, prayers and hopes need to be focused on his family and children and on making sure that we can lead our lives as well as he lead his.

By Peter Schaffer  |  July 8, 2009; 3:45 AM ET  | Category:  Baltimore Ravens , Crime , Peter Schaffer , Tennessee Titans Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Nice job. The standard for "hero" has indeed been heightened by the increased scrutiny these days. Lest we forget we should always frame our heroes in context. Extraordinary accomplishments within a given field, such as athletics, politics, corporate america, family life, etc should be revered or celebrated without being necessarily intertwined. McNair was an MVP to his team, community and league. Circumstances surrounding his untimely demise should not diminish these facts. The same may be said for Michael, Farrah, Ed McMahon, Billy Mays. All were very accomplished in their fields, some to heroic or iconic status and others perhaps not quite as lofty but noteworthy regardless of personal situations nonetheless. As you state, we are all human and therefore fallible. Those whose heroics transcend their fields are truly special and deservedly reach higher acclaim (e.g. Unitas!) but once again this should not take away from the impact of athletes such as Steve.. Thank you Steve.

Posted by: JimBeam2 | July 8, 2009 11:48 AM

He was not a hero, even before this tragic episode. He was a professional athlete who performed his craft well and had lots of money at his disposal to provide opportunities to others. Sorry, the fact that you do your chosen job well doesn't make you a hero. None of the celebrities you mention above are heroes. You and all the other columnists here celebrating this heroism confuse "hero" with "celebrity".
For an example of "heroism", google someone like Vietnam vet Ed W. Freeman. Guys like him weren't slinging footballs.

Posted by: capsfan77 | July 8, 2009 5:48 PM

Definition of Hero

1 a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability b : an illustrious warrior c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities d : one that shows great courage.

I guess we could say that McNair fits part of the definition in "c: a man admired for his achievements; however, this latest tragedy with him being shot by his young lover, while still married does not fit the description of noble qualities in any way.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | July 8, 2009 6:49 PM

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