Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And fallen. And fallen again.
It seems so obvious, doesn’t it, that the people we build up to be the biggest heroes are often the ones who crumble in such dramatic fashion. Sports stars are the ultimate examples of that– people love nothing more than to build someone up to be gods amongst men, only to have them fall apart.
Michael Phelps did it when we found out that, much like the average 20-something, he smoked weed. Lance Armstrong did it when he owned up to his doping after years and years of speculation. Manti Te’o did it when we found out that his tragic tale of a dead girlfriend was far from the truth. Tiger Woods cheated on his wife in the most amazing fashion.
And now, Oscar Pistorius has done it, albeit in a much more tragic fashion, bringing to mind the infamous events surrounding O.J. Simpson – yet another example.
But without Pistorius’s background as a sports hero, the story about him allegedly shooting his girlfriend would be just another sad story that made it to the b-section of the paper. Stranger still, he’s getting support from his fans in spite of the allegations against him.
It’s odd that people are so surprised when the public personas of high-profile athletes crumble before us. It happens so often, and it’s not hard to figure out why. No one is lauded, praised and babied more than professional athletes at the top of their game. Their egos are bound to get so big that they think they can get away with anything. Even murder.
The reason why the Pistorius story bothers us–and so many stories like it that involve sports heroes–is because we’re so quick to put them on a pedestal. Actors don’t even get the kind of god complex that these guys do. Politicians are elected to run entire nations and we still accept faults from them. (With some notable exceptions.) Pistorius is an extreme case, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an athlete that kept his golden-boy persona throughout his entire life.
I mean, even Bruce Jenner married into the Kardashians.
If people love the fallacy of a sports mega-star, they love the reality of their descent even more. During the Olympics, Pistorius was challenging misconceptions about amputees, and making history. Now he’s a crazy gun-fanatic who shot his girlfriend.
But there will be others. During the next Olympics, we’ll build another young athlete up, praise him to no end, call him the second coming of Christ, buy the products he endorses and marvel at his skill and charm. Then he’ll do something–big or small–and we’ll tear him down all over again. The pattern is so sure, and so consistent. The only real variable, in fact, is just how that athlete will ruin our unfair perception of perfection.
Imaged credit: IAN KINGTON/AFP