In Greek mythology one of the main traits of a hero is described as “one who possesses great courage and strength”. If we applied that to sports heroes where would we draw the line? Soon after Tiger Woods’ fall from grace a couple of years ago many of his loyal followers turned against him because of his inappropriate moral conduct. No reason could justify what he had done and in the end if his 2 children and ex wife are not emotionally scarred or damaged to any degree he is really the only one here who is damaged goods. For the most part especially in the US athletes are forgiven for their indiscretions, if they appear openly remorseful and truthful about admitting their failings or downfalls. Take the globally revered boxer Mohammed Ali, he now a very frail near invalid, once the greatest icon in sports and perhaps of all time. He too chose to go outside the matrimonial home and seek other “pleasures” so to speak. This is never spoken of or perhaps time has healed “old wounds” and we just let it evaporate into nothingness. Both Tiger and Ali possessed “great courage and strength” if not in perpetuity at least in their chosen sport in the “heat of the action.” Gargantuan 300+ yard drives for Tiger and devastating lightning fast knockouts and incredible stamina were always prescriptions of an Ali fight.
Is this enough for them to qualify as a “hero” in the sporting arena? Perhaps, but for those who allow them into that circle, are they themselves ignorant to the moral code of fidelity.
Many sports have their heroes or at least heroic moments. In NHL hockey, ex Toronto Maple Leaf defense man, Bob Baun played in a game whereby he broke his leg and not only came out of the dressing room and back onto the ice to play but also scored the winning goal in overtime. Equally as heroic and brave was the painful but unselfish effort put forth by British football legend, Sir Stanley Mathews, during a televised FA Cup game, where he also refused to sit on the bench after sustaining a broken leg, basically running on one foot and still outsmarting the bewildered opposing players. In boxing Tyrell Biggs, the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal winner in the super heavyweight division sustained a broke right hand early in a televised professional boxing match and danced and jabbed his way for 7 rounds to score a 10 round victory by unanimous decision. He stated that when he tried throwing a right even if it didn’t land the jolt of pain was unbearable.
Then there’s the most unlikely and courageous double play ever recorded in baseball history, “strength and great courage” a pale description to say the least. Toronto catcher Buck Martinez after suffering a broken leg and dislocated ankle tagging out a Seattle runner at home plate had the presence of mind to try and throw out another runner advancing to third base, while laying on his back in agony. The inaccurate throw sailed into the outfield where by it was swiftly thrown back to home plate and the now prone Martinez not only managed to catch the ball again but had the will to tag out the now stampeding runner coming down the base path from third!
For these moments all be it heroic do not make these dedicated warriors heroes.
Lastly for me, the most heroic of all sportsmen was an Olympic champion marathoner named Abebe Bikila who was handed an ill fitting pair of shoes just previous to running in and winning the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He chose to run barefoot instead and later stated “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism”
His reward for winning a second gold in 1964 was a White Volkswagen car presented to him by the emperor of Ethiopia. During civil unrest in his homeland he had to swerve a group of protesters and was rendered a quadriplegic as result of the crash that ensued, he recovered slightly to become a paraplegic. In the aftermath he held no grudges or animosities and stated that, “Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.”
He died 4 years later at 41 from complications of this accident, a true hero.
Charlie Beljan, PGA professional golfer is my newest hero, and now ranks right up there with these all time sporting heroes.
We watched in awe and slightly shocked as this journeyman player, who later admitted saying to his caddy, that he thought he was going to die, persevered throw a series of anxiety and panic attacks live on TV to win his first PGA event and secure his card for 2 full years and open a million doors along the way. I am sure corporate marketing chiefs are writing TV commercial scripts as we speak.
Way to go Charlie! In this day of prima donna overpaid athletes and corrupt abuses by drugs takers and cheats, Chocolate Charlie (See Belgian Chocolates) has restored some of us to believe that there are indeed heroes amongst the midst.