Sports, “Heroes,” and Fatherhood

Manti Te’o, Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, Tiger Woods; do these names represent heroes? I’ve found myself struggling lately with the idea of sports “heroes.” Athletes, professional and amateur alike are placed on a pedestal like no other. I myself have done this in the past. Growing up a New York Yankee fan, I idolized Don Mattingly. He was, and still is my favorite baseball player. I had the fortune of watching him in person play the game he loved. The “old” Yankee Stadium humming from tens of thousands of electrified fans. The chant of “Donnie, Donnie.” For a twelve-year-old kid, it was magic.

I would carry my glove to school. I would play in my backyard like I was a first baseman wearing number 23 in pinstripes. My friends and I would play home run derby like we were all-stars. For us kids, these were our heroes. I remember jumping up and down when McGwire’s 62nd home run squeaked over the fence. These athletes could do no wrong.

This past week, baseball lost Stan “The Man” Musial. The times in which he played were different culturally and politically. Yet, from the perspective of sports fans, not much has changed since his time. My struggle now is more than rectifying with my past. The struggle has more to do with my son than anything else.

I’m a father and a sports fan. I relish the thought of watching sports with my son. I envision taking him to a store to pick out his first baseball glove. I love the idea of going out in the backyard for a simple game of catch. I want to show him how to throw a tight spiral with the football. I look forward to the day I can convince my wife to get a basketball hoop for the driveway. Watching and playing sports are things I always envisioned doing with my child, regardless of gender. My struggle now is how do I explain to him, that athletes are simply people doing a job? How do I explain to him the situations we see on TV, read on the web, or hear on sports radio? How do I explain things like doping, steroids, and hoaxes?

Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much? Who is to say he will even enjoy sports as he gets older? But what if he does? How do I explain to him my collection of Mattingly baseball cards? Our technological world allows for instant awareness of situations that children will find difficult to comprehend. After all, the athletes are people just playing a game.

I suspect I am not the first, nor the last father to struggle with this concept. We all consider different people to be heroes. The irony for me, is the person I worry about explaining this to is my hero. Who’s yours?

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