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.