Wednesday, July 8

How High Do We Lift Our Heroes?

There has been a multitude of deaths in the public forum recently. Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays all passed in the last couple of weeks and then the two big deaths from the past couple of weeks; Steve McNair and Michael Jackson. While billions around the world mourn MJ's death, McNair's has been brought out of the sports community because of the strange circumstances and scandal that surround his murder. Both are being heralded as great men of their craft and shouts have gone out far and wide to ignore whatever transgressions they have done in order to preserve their memories. The element that has been twisting in my mind is to what extent do we deserve to etch in history the wrong these icons did during their time on Earth.

I'll begin with McNair, who mainly reached the audience of this country in the realm of sports. Steve McNair was, if you read the recent headlines, a warrior. Let me take this opportunity to reiterate the notion that it is not properly just to anoint people like McNair or other athletes as heroes or soldiers. It is a term that mostly is not meant in the context of conflict or life and death situations. The soldiers that are fighting a fierce battle in Iraq and Afghanistan are soldiers, warriors, and heroes. First responders who are willing to sacrifice their lives are heroes. Captain Sullenburger who saved 155 lives by guiding a plane into the Hudson is a hero. Yet whom do we idolize, buy jerseys and other merchandise for, and mention more often than the men and women from the previous sentence. I am not reigning judgment down from an ivory tower on the subject, I am merely stating the reality. The real-life heroes deserve praise and recognition but if you are too ignorant to realize that I am not going to try and convince you. The athletes and celebrities that get the fame and attention are held in our culture as heroes and icons and persons of greater worth than you or I, like it or not.

Forgive the digression there but I deemed it to be necessary to the conversation. As I said McNair was considered one of the toughest men in the NFL of his generation. He often took brutal and serious punishment on the field but handled it with resiliency and toughness. In a macho society such as the NFL or really all sports one of the highest honors you can garner is the ability to play with and through pain. Isiah limping his way through game 6 of the NBA Finals, Willis Reed coming out for the final game with the badly injured ankle, Byron Leftwich getting carried by his linemen to the line of scrimmage, etc. McNair embodied this sentiment and was also an impressive player at his position. I myself had great memories of his exploits on the field, the most famous of which was Super Bowl 34. The play McNair made to escape tacklers and get the Titans in position for a possible game-winning play (starting at 1:34 on the video below) is one that I will always recall. If Kevin Dyson had eluded Mike Jones and made it into the endzone and Tennessee had found a way to win, that elusive play would be one of the most celebrated in NFL history.

But fate is not always on your side (right David Tyree?) and McNair never made it back. According to friends, family, and teammates that is not how Steve would be defined. McNair was always good to the press, involved in charity work in the community, and admired by those who claimed to know him best. When his death came about and details began to come forth, it was sobering news. It now appears McNair was having a relationship with a 20 year-old woman in secret was then killed by her in an apparent murder-suicide. While McNair was in the wrong for the affair, it in now way warranted a death sentence. It is tragic that a 36 year-old father is taken away from his family.

This is the point where my mind has a tough time reconciling the sentiments about McNair. Anytime a person dies, it is often better to focus on the good that they have done in their lives rather than the negative issues. When a public figure dies that takes on even more meaning. Jeff Fisher echoed the wishes of many around Nashville, and in the NFL community when he stated that Steve should be remembered for all the good he did for the game and his community. There seems to be a large portion of the population that wants me to overlook the fact that this man was cheating on his wife and allegedly spending a lot of time with this other woman who it appears became his murderer. To what degree should this man be lauded? I am writing this post to ask, because in all honesty I do not know. I am not here to say that McNair was a horrible human being for the affair, but now that he has passed I do not think that I should wipe my mind clean of any wrongdoing.

This tangentially brings me to the subject of men cheating on their spouses/girlfriends. I am far too small of a sample size to represent all males in our culture but what I can say from my experiences is that men are liars and cheaters. They just are, by nature and perhaps women are too but I do not have women telling me all the time about their exploits. I have heard time and time again a man tell me about when he did this and that with a woman while his girlfriend/fiance/wife was oblivious. I would put the percentage at 7 out of every 10 men have cheated or are cheating on their significant others. Now that begs the question if I have ever crossed that line? The answer is no and that does not mean I am here to sit in judgment of the other men, I simply have been able to turn down temptation at the right time in my life... so far. Oh yes I hath been tempted by the fruit but never did taste. Of course, bringing professional athletes into the equation changes everything.

Chris Rock once said "Men are only as faithful as their options." This is very close to the truth. Your average man can only resist so much before his brain justifies an act of infidelity. Athletes are not your average man though and this because nearly everyday they have women throwing themselves at them. You are expecting a man who is given wealth and fame to somehow tame himself into taking the moral high ground? That is a lot to ask anyone, just ask the governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford. So men cheat, they cheat often and sometimes they get caught. Sometimes they buy their wife a multi-million dollar apology ring, sometimes they rat out their teammates but they cheat. This brings me back to Steve McNair, I do not sit and condemn him for cheating, but I cannot take that factor out of it when remembering him. When the circumstances of his death are added in, that will always be there in my mind. No matter what good he has done in his life, he has committed wrong. I will celebrate his play and toughness on the field, but I will not choose to elevate him as someone that is to be wholly admired.

That brings us to Michael Jackson. On the scale of heroes MJ would be considered on a totally different stratosphere than Steve Mcnair. Yet the principal remains the same in my mind. Jackson is being honored as a hero, visionary, legendary figure. While he is all that and more, can I honestly sit here and ignore the things this man has done?

Jackson was the biggest pop star since Elvis. He was thrust into the spotlight as a young child, he was given the status of a deity as a young man so is it any wonder why he became the way he did? It was we the public that helped create the monster. Was there any chance of Jackson leading a normal life? I do not deny as a kid I used to watch the music videos back when MTV played music and would even imitate the moonwalk, single glove, and thriller dance. You think I can't stop my shoulders from moving when I hear "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough"? Michael's music and influence on lives around the world is undeniable.

At his memorial service yesterday Al Sharpton told everyone to forget the troubles that MJ carried with him. I'm sorry Al but that I cannot do. Jackson is compelling not only because of his greatness but because of the oddities he carried with him. One need only look at the photos of him through the years to see his ghastly metamorphosis. Who knows for sure what happened between him and the young children, but I am certain it was not all kosher. This brings me back to my point: Jackson should be and will be celebrated for generations, but what he became has to be included in remembering.

I am sure America would love to take out certain portions of our history but to do that is to rob the present population of the knowledge and perspective it would give them about their past, present, and future. So these heroes should be celebrated and idolized, but their entire life must be made known including the negatives. Heroes in our life are not a bad thing to have, but when we lift heroes too high we will lose a vision on why we admire them. I will continue to pump the Michael Jackson through my ipod, just as I will continue to think of Steve McNair as a great NFL quarterback, but I will not forget the entirety of who they were as men. I learned this lesson early in life, because my boyhood hero was Darryl Strawberry (Ed. note: He's still alive).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said Cleet.