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On Heroes

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On the heels (terrible pun intended) of the Oscar Pistorius debacle, one has been forced to read in several media that Pistorius was not a hero, and even if proven innocent of all counts we should have never expected heroism from him. One has had to read, repeatedly, that “we are all humans, and we make mistakes”, in the context that we should forgive Mr. Pistorius for falling from the pedestal “we” placed him on.
It is a terrible lame conclusion. Since we are all humans, and we all make mistakes, we cannot expect Oscar to be a hero. He perhaps never wanted to be one.
The entire logic is faulty to the point of embarrassment. To begin with, the whole point of justice would crumble down to pieces if we were to fall on that cliché. If being human led to our immediate forgiveness, nobody would ever be sentenced to anything. It is the modern version of that insipid and illogical unofficial commandment of “him without sin cast the first stone” (which in the classic joke has the Virginal and therefore sinless Mary toss the first stone at Magdalene, to which Christ retorts “Mother, you really piss me off sometimes”. We will skip that line of thought for today).
The issue is not whether Oscar Pistorius was or is a hero. The issue is that he could have been, because, although we are all humans, and we do make mistakes, some people do handle themselves in heroic ways.
The celebrities and sportspersons of this world are those that are at times labeled as such. It is not hard to find examples of people that could have easily gone completely insane and become anything but a hero, but didn´t. People that when faced with many opportunities to lead debauchery to a new level, simply decided to be that most heroic of figures: a normal person.
In the Stars category, a quick example is the late Paul Newman. This man, simply, had it all. A popular sex symbol of the 60´s and 70´s, Newman could have easily led a life of grandiose, from the arms of one beautiful woman into another´s. Instead, Newman led a life of normalcy. After one divorce (yes, we all make mistakes) he spent the rest of his life with one single woman, his wife Joanne Woodward. He did enjoy his race cars, but other than that, vices were extinct. And his heroics were simple. His brand of Salad Dressings had one purpose: every dollar of profit goes to charities. If you buy one bottle (and they are not bad, in case you want to know) you will see the claim that 300 million dollars have gone towards that purpose. Not bad, for a man that in theory had nothing more than a pair of beautiful blue eyes.
If you feel that Newman was from another era, not representative of today, you can take a look at Daniel Day Lewis. Not heroic, but not fodder for tabloids. Not too bad, as things go.
In our sport of tennis, heroes are present. Do not be misled because of the occasional temper tantrum and /or broken racket. The current triumvirate of top players (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic) is either actively engaged in foundations to help others (Roger and Rafa) or at least handle themselves with certain grace. Go on, scoff at the Djoker, but think about it: have you ever seen Nole hook somebody for a point? No, you haven´t, and for that Djokovic deserves a small amount of credit. A hero he is not, yet, but neither a villain. Federer pushes the limit on his down to earth life style. You have to give it to the man: when the main complaint about you is that you are, at times, arrogant, you are not doing too badly. Go ahead, you win 17 Grand Slam titles and keep a level head, buddy. I´ll be here watching.
Solidly in the terrain of heroics you have the memory of Arthur Ashe. There is no need to list his credentials for that title, so we will leave it at that. The point is that if you think a little, you will find plenty of sports figures that handle themselves like heroes: away from scandal, silently living a productive life, not making the headline of any terrible newspaper. A short list: Tim Duncan, Drew Brees, Phil Mickelson. Yes, heroics are not displayed in grandiose gestures (although Brees’ involvement in Post Katrina relief is well documented) but the issue is that, as Todd Martin once said, “normal is underrated”.
So two stories about heroes. Little known heroes.
Years ago, Major League Shortstop and 11 times Gold Glove winner Omar Visquel from Venezuela boarded a plane back home. Being a Big Leaguer, he was flying business and boarded first. As he was getting comfy, he saw a girl coming on board with a large cast on her leg. With her crutches, she was assisted by the flight attendants to her seat. Visquel noticed this and walked back to ask her what had happened. A torn ACL, was her answer. Visquel, having had a similar injury once, told the girl to take his business class seat. On a packed flight, that meant he had to fly coach.
A little gesture. The heroics came from the fact that Visquel never brought it up. One passenger, sitting close to where Visquel ended up sitting, wrote a letter to a newspaper with that story. Visquel spent the flight with his fellow Venezuelans, sharing stories, and only confirmed this one when a journalist called to check it out.
Nothing major. Nothing that would make the world, as a whole, better. But that is was heroes do. Small things, for no ulterior motive at all.
The second story is closer to this writer. As a child, I had a friend called Rafael Vidal. Rafael and I separated because such is life and because he took up swimming and dedicated his life to that sport. He dedicated himself enough to win a Bronze medal in the Olympics (L.A. 1984), after which he became, yes, a national hero.
And he simply led a regular life. Rafael trained younger people, helped the kids, repeatedly helped to raise money for those less fortunate. He married a nice, regular woman (there are none, all women are extraordinary, but you understand), had two daughters. A normal life.
One night, as he returned home from visiting a sick friend, a person in a Hummer ran a red light, striking Rafael´s car sideways. Rafael was not a millionaire, but was not either poor. He could have had any car he wanted, but his choice was a small, compact Toyota Corolla, not strong enough to save him
As a memory to Rafael, his fundraising organization every year organizes an event called “1 Million Meters for Rafael”. People all over the country swim laps and keep track of the distance, adding them to reach one million meters. Every meter means money, which goes to charity. Routinely, a friend of mine that is involved in this event tells me, many millions of meters are swum every year.
A little gesture, a little help. What heroes do.
Which bring us back to Pistorius. Yes, he is not a hero. Right now, one wonders what he is. But a hero he is not, and that is part of this story that is so wrong. Because the reality is that Oscar Pistorius is not a hero, but he could have been. He could have led people in the assistance that handicaps need around the world. In a country besieged by violence towards women, he is now on the wrong side of that fight, facing prison time for killing one. He could have taken up that fight and bring forth a stand against injustices. He could have been a hero. But he isn’t and he wasn’t. And that is a tragedy.

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  1. Ti-Amie's Avatar
    Thanks for this Ponchi. The two examples you cite, your late friend and the pro baseball player show what it means to be heroes.
  2. GlennHarman's Avatar
    Ponchi, I don't know why, but I hadn't read this until this morning. Thanks for posting this. Your writing is wonderful, both in our various threads, and in your blogs. I need to pay more attention and read your stuff. I'm very glad you're part of this group!! All the best to you!! Glenn