Are sports stars heroes?


Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times after recovering from cancer. That made him famous, but it did not make him a good person. (PHILIPPE WOJAZER/REUTERS)

Here’s a question I have been thinking about lately: What is a hero?

Lots of kids count athletes among their heroes. Kids have posters of their favorites on their bedroom walls. They collect their player cards and wear their game shirts.

It is no wonder kids think athletes are heroes. Athletes can perform some amazing feats, such as throwing a football 70 yards to a receiver or sprinting 100 meters in less than 10 seconds.

But does that make them heroes?

I think it is good for kids, and their parents, to remember that just because athletes can do almost magical things, this does not automatically make them good friends or nice people. The last few weeks have given us some sad reminders of this truth.


Baseball star Sammy Sosa might never reach the Hall of Fame because he was accused of cheating. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

Lance Armstrong was called a hero. He almost died of cancer, but he recovered to win seven Tour de France bicycle races in a row, from 1999 to 2005. Armstrong’s comeback and racing wins inspired millions who have cancer to “live strong,” as the yellow rubber wristbands from Armstrong’s charity say.

Now it is clear that Armstrong cheated to win his championships. He took drugs and treatments that were against the rules to help make himself stronger and to pedal faster and farther.

Armstrong also lied for years about whether he took drugs. He bullied anyone who said he had cheated. Armstrong was a great athlete, but that did not make him a good person.

The same was true with several star baseball players. Based on their career statistics, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire should have been voted into the sport’s Hall of Fame last month. But each of those athletes has been accused of cheating to achieve some of his incredible records, and none of them received enough support from the baseball writers who decide who gets in and who does not. In other words, the voters decided that being a Hall of Famer had to be about more than just records and statistics. At least in this case, it had to be about honesty and playing by the rules as well.

So, should kids take down the posters of their favorite players? No, athletes work hard to get better and don’t give up when things get tough. Those are things that kids should admire and try to imitate. Some athletes are good people as well as good players.

But everyone should remember that even if a player is the hero of the game, that doesn’t make him a hero in life.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids. His latest book is “Go for the Goal!


Roger Clemens was a gifted pitcher, but his long career has been clouded by claims that he cheated. (ED BETZ/REUTERS)
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