Warning: The following post will involve sports AND be serious. If you don’t know how to handle either of these, my blog is not for you today. I apologize in advance for the unhappiness these two subjects will undoubtedly cause some of you.
Every child has a hero.
Finding a child without a hero would be finding one with no imagination of what could be, a child lacking ambition for the future. These heroes inspire us to be better than we would be on our own. Whether it is an actor, musician, or even a neighbor, children can look at them and see what could happen with hard work and perseverance.
For me, these heroes came from the world of sports. Second grade saw me dress as Kansas City Royals’ first baseman Wally Joyner for Halloween. I watched and cheered as linebacker Derrick Thomas led a Chiefs defense with his brutal play. I found myself enamored with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they chased a home run record most thought was untouchable.
I lived and died with these players, scouring the newspapers for a report of their performance. Saying anything bad about these idols of mine was akin to delivering a brutal slap to my face. They were untouchable, a perfect combination of athlete and humanitarian.
As all things from childhood are prone to do, though, these thoughts died an unseemly death.
My teenage years would see McGwire, Sosa, even Joyner embroiled in controversy over the use of steroids, tainting McGwire and Sosa’s home run race and ruining the perfect visage that players like Joyner had in my eye. After a car crash cut short the career of Derrick Thomas before eventually cutting his life short, a flood of women came forth claiming to have birthed his children. His estate would be divided between his seven children and the five different women who had birthed them.
One by one, I watched these heroes fall from grace, toppling off of the pedestal that I had forced them onto in the first place. They had never asked for my admiration but nonetheless had earned it. Then suddenly they had crushed the idyllic refashioned image that I had carefully crafted in my head.
For a number of people, yesterday saw another idol crumble.
It was an unforgettable scene on the TV. An older woman stood in front of a sea of cameramen and microphones, sobbing uncontrollably. Through her accented wailing you could hear her repeat the thought that must have already gone through her head hundreds of times that day.
“I pray to God, ‘Please take me, take me and leave my son,’ but it’s too late. Too late.”
The woman was speaking of her son, Tiaina, known to the world as former NFL linebacker and future hall of famer Junior Seau. Seau was known throughout the sports world as a person who embraced the fun of the sport, as an amazing player with an equally fantastic record off the field, creating his own foundation that has raised $4 million to directly help shield children and young adults from the many pitfalls of growing up.
That day, though, Seau was known only as a former athlete who had died of an apparent suicide. He was known as the athlete who was found with a gunshot wound from the bullet that ripped through his chest. He was remembered as the person who “accidentally” drove his car off of a cliff a year and a half ago, swearing he had fallen asleep at the wheel. The same athlete who, hours before his car careened over the edge of that cliff, had been arrested for domestic violence.
Across the sports world, people were shocked and devastated. People wildly speculated, saying that head injuries must have led to this depression or that it should be investigated as a murder instead of a suicide. Experts pointed at different things, labeling his behaviors as tell-tale signs that something was not right.
What was irrefutable was that, despite the signs and warning flares he had shot up, people were not prepared for this. Fans flooded the comments section of every article just to label Seau a “coward.” The formerly revered athlete’s deeds on and off the field had been forgotten, replaced by the image of a crying mother and a man who, despite the image he portrayed, did not have everything as together as it seemed.
On the corner of Armour and Warwick, seated in the heart of Kansas City, stands a school. Opened in 2001, the Derrick Thomas academy provides a tuition free charter-school experience for nearly 1,000 students a year. Between Derrick Thomas’ Third and Long Foundation, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the University of Missouri at Kansas City, this school has fulfilled Thomas’ goal that began in 1990. Students are defeating illiteracy with the help of the fallen hero.
For the thousands of students who have passed through these halls, this is not a reminder of the mistakes Thomas made in his life. This is a reflection of what Kansas City loved from #58: a willingness to give of himself to better the lives around him.
These children are only familiar with the Derrick Thomas that I knew growing up.
We cannot expect our heroes to live faultless lives. We are in an imperfect world full of imperfect people and those that we have placed on pedestals are no different. What we can do, though, is honor those who worked hard for others, who made their city a better place. Instead of dwelling on the bad that people did, we can remember why we rooted for them in the first place.
For fans of Junior Seau, his legacy may seem tainted. In time, though, people will remember the things that Seau did for the community of San Diego. They will forget the nastiness that was his final days. They will honor his legacy for what it should be honored for.
Every child needs a hero, but adults could use one too. If we can remember that our heroes are human, maybe we can have just that.
- Marty Calls Junior Seau One Of The Best Ever (arrowheadpride.com)
- Junior Seau Leaves Behind Incredible NFL Legacy For Chargers, Fans (kansascity.sbnation.com)
- Junior Seau’s Legacy and What He Meant to NFL Fans (bleacherreport.com)
- Boston University Looking To Study Junior Seau’s Brain (rantsports.com)