Saturday, October 4, 2008

Worshiping a False Hero

I have always been a huge sports fan. Back in the mid 1970's, watching all kinds of spectator sports and their various superstars perform amazing feats of athleticism while I sat glued to the television on lazy weekend afternoons, was what I lived for. I was a pre-teen then, and idolizing some of these men as heros came naturally. About that same time, I was also leaving behind my worship of comic book superheros such as Aqua Man, Batman and my personal favorite Superman.
Those early days of The Justice League gave way to idolization of sports teams and their superstars such as the New York Yankees with Reggie Jackson, the Philadelphia 76ers with Dr. J., or even Richard Petty and his NASCAR racing team. But to me, above all those and other mega stars, one player stood out as a special sports hero to me. Unfortunately, it was O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills.

( Yes, I even had my very own O.J. Jersey!)

To this day, I distinctively remember watching in awe as O.J. sliced and diced his way through opposing defenses (ok, maybe a not the best choice of verbs) with such style and grace that I wanted to be just like him. It was amazing to me how O.J. would slowly get up limping after an amazing run which culminated in being slammed to the ground by several opposing defenders. He would gingerly limp back to the huddle, me holding my breath wondering how badly hurt he was, only to have him break off another graceful dash down the sidelines on the next play. Yes, The Juice had special skills.

As I'm sure most of us do, I also remember the shocking news of his wife's murder back in 1994, and the infamous low speed chase in the white Bronco. I watched the trial of the century with utter fascination, and heartfelt sadness that a childhood hero of mine had fallen so low. I was also convinced of his guilt, and like most of the people I knew, was equally shocked to hear the not guilty verdict. I still remember that moment vividly. It felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. It was blow to my young notion that in my country justice would always be served.

(photo by bullywhippit)

Now, 13 years later, comes the news that O.J. Simpson has finally been convicted for a separate set of crimes, including kidnapping and armed robbery, stemming from an incident in a Las Vegas casino a year ago in which he attempted to steal some of his own sports memorabilia. With this conviction also comes the word that The Juice could even spend the rest of his life in prison for committing these crimes. Clearly a case of right sentence, wrong crime. Yes, O.J. should be rotting in a jail cell for the rest of his natural life, and you won't find many people who will be shedding tears for this terrible, iconic figure in American pop culture.

It seems odd to me now that as a child I idolized such a morally corrupt person. The fact was, that like most sports stars of those days, I knew a whole lot about O.J. Simpson the athlete, and very little about O.J the man. I do believe that with the proliferation of the media culture of today such disparity of knowledge has narrowed, thus making it easier for those kids today who are looking for a true hero to worship.

As Lukas grows and becomes aware of such things, I will do my very best to keep him from being awed by a high performing athlete's on-the-field accomplishments and automatically putting that person on a pedestal. It will be a fine line I'm sure. I don't want him to lose that sense of wonder and excitement at seeing those amazing feats of athletic prowess, I just want him, in the end, to judge the man's character by what he does off the field or court. Things like how he treats his family, or how he deals with adversity. Those things are the true measure of a man. Not, how fast he can run through an airport, or dodge defenders.

As for O.J., I hope for everyone's sake that this pariah of a man is in fact sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars. He deserves it, if not for this crime, then for the murders he committed all those years ago. It would be a fitting end to a sad chapter in American pop culture history.


Ed (zoesdad) said...

Well put, James. Very well put.

Idaho Dad said...

I completely agree with you... Right sentence, wrong crime.

A small part of me was thinking he should be found not guilty simply because I didn't think he committed these particular crimes. But the rest of me was saying, "Who cares what he did now, this is just karma coming back to get him."

I'm always amazed at people like OJ who reach the heights of success and then throw it all away.

Jason Roth said...

Living here in Las Vegas where the entire trial was televised live, I was quite surprised by the verdict. The case was actually kind of weak. But nonetheless, I'm happy about the guilty verdict. He's no longer above the law.

Anonymous said...

It is truly karmic justice, as stated before.

Well said, James. Though I'm not aware of any crimes that any of my boyhood sports heroes committed, I would have felt extremely betrayed if they had.

This is a very good point that I'll keep in mind as Cooper grows up.

Anonymous said...

Very well put but....

Aquaman? Really? Who idolizes Aquaman??

James (SeattleDad) said...

@Ed - Thanks. And thanks for the link too.

@Phil - Yeah, my sentiments too. Who cares as long as he is locked up.

@VegasDad - I guess that is another way our system equalizes itself. Glad he is put away also.

@Rob - Yes, the problem is we don't know enough about the real people most of these althetes are. Unfortunately for atheletes and famous people in general the media scurtiny is huge nowadays so they have less privacy but we know more about them.

@Dan - Aquaman was great! The way he used those bubbles and thought waves to communicate with the fishes. Classic!

Whit said...

13 years to the day. That's karma on a grand scale.

James (SeattleDad) said...

@Whit - It was about time!