Rooting For Dragons

Dear fellow cynics: congrats! We landed a huge blow this past weekend when some silly little football team lost a game. We finally won!

Don’t worry, this post isn’t about Tim Tebow. This post isn’t about his Christianity or the fact that he’s more open about it than 90% of us want him to be. It has nothing to do with whether or not he could be a professional quarterback. Who cares about that? He’s one dude, barely older than I am, and has plenty of time to figure all of it out for himself. Not my problem.

This post has everything to do with us, and the fact that all of us were just waiting for him to fail. It has everything to do with the fact that we have become so hardened and cynical that we can’t stand the idea that somebody could be THAT good of a person. Sure, he goes out of his way to use his celebrity status to help people, so surely he can’t be a good football player as well, right? He can’t have it ALL.

Nobody is that good. Nobody is that clean. Nobody is that heroic. And surely we can’t be wrong about this. We HAVE to be right, even at the cost of innocence.

Heroes? Heroes are dead.

In the golden age of comic books, superheroes could do no wrong. Superman was bound by an ethical code that meant he HAD to help whoever he could. Batman was bound by an insatiable desire for justice, though promising to never kill anyone himself. Spider-man was bound by the code of hyphenation.

They were good. They did no wrong. The bad guys were bad guys, and the good guys were good guys.

In 1986, The Watchmen, a twelve issue mini-series, changed that. It painted the superheroes as simply being people with special gifts. They weren’t better people. They just had special abilities.

So they weren’t perfect. In fact, they were so far from perfect, they made a conscious decision that in order to avoid a disaster, they had to sacrifice many lives of innocent people.

Hopefully that didn’t give too much away, if you don’t know the story. But it’s been out since ’86, so you’ve had time to read it.

The Watchmen reflects an idea that is ingrained in our society: that nobody is both a good person and a successful person. Sure, people can do good things, but deep down, real heroes are reserved for myths and bedtime stories.

The same idea exists in sports, since sports figures are our modern day superheroes. The most successful and most popular athletes are never the ones who have the greatest ethical accolades. Sports culture, and consequently all of our culture, won’t allow both to happen. It’s as if when somebody becomes an athlete, they are required to chose between being a role model or being successful.

Maybe Charles Barkley wasn’t far off.

Was Brett Favre more popular in his prime, when he was the entertaining, careless, caution-be-damned gunslinger quarterback? Or when he returned to the game, showing more faults than strengths? Did we really enjoy seeing him so flawed? And do we really enjoy penis jokes THAT much?

As is the case with Tim Tebow. He isn’t perfect. We knew that there had to come a time when he would fail. We were all waiting. Maybe it’s insecurity, maybe it’s something else, but for some reason, we can’t stand the idea of somebody actually being that genuine; that good.

It’s not a matter of religion or spirituality. It’s a matter of someone being smart, hard-working, upstanding, AND talented. That just can’t happen.

So we root for them to fail. We root for the reminder that maybe, just maybe, they’re not that much better than us. They’re not that special. They’re just normal people with special abilities. They’re not heroic.

All we really want is the reminder that the world is still as difficult for them as it is for the rest of us.

Every year, the NFL gives out the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award to a player who is to be praised for their community involvement and charity work. It’s a great honor to the player who receives the award, but also a great honor to Walter Payton, a phenomenal player and an honorable man who died of cancer at the age of 45.

He was heroic, and taken before his time. But we couldn’t have that.

Just this past year, author Jeff Pearlman released his book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton. This biography allegedly chronicled Payton’s addiction to painkillers, his extramarital affairs, and the severe depression he battled from dealing with both of those things.

Even the man we name humanitarian awards after couldn’t have been that great, right? Even thirteen years after his death, we can’t let the memory of Walter Payton stay untarnished.

I don’t know why any of this is. When we were growing up, we loved stories about heroes, and we knew how to look up to people around us. Most likely, as we grew up, we saw that the people we looked up to weren’t perfect, and we never got over that. We couldn’t look up to anyone anymore. And we couldn’t view anyone as being respectable anymore.

I don’t know why it is. I just know that at one point, we loved stories about good, heroic knights riding to slay evil, vicious dragons.

And now? We root for the dragons.


7 thoughts on “Rooting For Dragons

  1. Way to take a break for some serious time. I kind of have that privileged feeling you get when you’re asked to sit at the grown-up table for dessert.
    Something is for sure broken in us, that we can’t accept someone actually excelling in multiple aspects of life. Tebow lost, and without flinching, people start yelling “I told you so!” The truth is, he’s still a beast of an athlete who’s not afraid to live out his convictions, whether or not he does that with the same approach some of us would. Rooting for the dragons indeed.

  2. I think we all wanted to be those super heros when we were kids, but somewhere along the line we grew up, and we screwed up, and we were reminded that we could never be that good.

    I think we hate heros because they remind of something we told ourselves no one could ever really be. So, when we find heros, we automatically look for their kryptonite, because we want to destroy them to prove to ourselves that we haven’t let ourselves down. We have to prove to ourselves that no one is really capable of being a better person than we are.

    The fact of the matter is that our heros are always going to have their flaws, their secrets; their dark sides. That’s human nature– that’s sin. If you think everyone is excited that Tebow failed at a football game, just wait until a flaw in his character is revealed, and that day will most likely come.

    I think we should extend grace to our heros just as we should extend it to every man. An extreme amount of grace has been extended to you and me, and so who are we to look at one or two bad spots and declare something completely ruined? So what if Tebow lost a game, he’s still an upstanding guy, and who cares if in 20 years we were to find out that Tebow struggled with some sin, he still put his faith in Christ and attempted to be the best witness of that love as was humanly possibly.

    That’s more than many of us have ever done– and that’s why we love to hate.

  3. Very good post, sir. I think it even goes a step beyond realizing we couldn’t live up to it, even. Heroes used to be something to strive for; even if we knew we couldn’t quite reach it, we’d be better for the trying. Now it’s different. And I don’t think it’s just fear of failing. I think it’s a rise of selfishness and a lowering of morality combining to create people who resent being asked to try, or even the suggestion that there’s something they should do other than what they want to do. We want to run our own lives our own way, and anything that reminds us that there might be a “should” is a threat to that.

    I’m not bad if everyone else is at or beneath my level. it’s the same logic that makes a bully feel better when he pushes someone else down, or made the Greeks surround themselves with deities that had all the flaws that were evident in their own eyes. We bring them down to our level so we’re not confronted with a need to be anything other than we are.

  4. well said, mr. craven. and i have only to add that Walter Payton and i are from the same town…that’s right…that’s right, there’s a statue of him on my high school football field…

  5. Misery loves company. if we are all jacked up the last thing we want to look at is some joker who has all his crap neatly divided in sacks. You want to hate that guy. He’s so arrogant up there in his perfect little world. BOOOO get down here with the rest of us. Or something like that.

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