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Are Professional Athletes Heroes?

Are professional athletes heroes? To some, they simply throw, run, or catch a ball and are paid unfathomable amounts of money to do so. Many would argue that the money should go elsewhere and that athletes should not be celebrated nor relentlessly compensated for their efforts. I disagree.

Michael Jordan
Credit: Sky Sports

Why Athletes Are Heroes

I believe that athletes are heroes, but within various contexts. There are global icons, like LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant, whose reach in China rivals that of their omnipresence in Los Angeles. There are local heroes, who give young members of impoverished communities the hope that they too, one day, can flex their athletic muscle on the television screen. Kyle Kuzma, for example, runs a summer basketball camp in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, calling attention to a town ravaged by poverty and a notoriously filthy water supply.  

Caron Butler, another former Laker, gives multiple talks about gang violence and even co-authored a book about the deleterious effects of crime. He had been arrested multiple times in his hometown of Racine, Wisconsin before deciding to take the game of basketball seriously and serve as a beacon of hope. He is perhaps most famous for stopping the infamous locker-room fight between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, where both men drew weapons in response to a card-game gone wrong. Crittenton now spends his days in prison as a convicted murderer. 

On occasion, certain athletes have been deemed criminals that have been given far too much leeway because of their athletic prowess. It is true, that sometimes men and women that possess extraordinary talent are often given more opportunity to display that talent if it is of benefit to a larger corporation. However, the ethos that athletes are more criminally inclined is false. In a conversation I had with Thomas Mahoney, former chief of the West Santa Monica Police Department and long-tenured member of the FBI, he claimed the rate of crime committed by American athletes is on par with that of ordinary Americans. This fact may give credence to the notion that athletes may not be heroes and are simply ordinary men and women.

Dedication of Athletes

However, most high-caliber athletes, have given their all to their respective craft from an exceedingly young age. We are talking about countless hours of golf swings, conducted in a single day, by a guy like Tiger Woods at the mere age of eight. We are talking about Venus and Serena Williams, who were coached mercilessly by their father Richard as young girls, then became the very best in tennis. Dedication is something to be admired, if not heroic. 

I had a friend in high school, who I looked up to, because instead of going to parties and getting lost in mindless drama, he played at least five hours of golf a day. He only made it to a couple of major PGA events, but he gave the game a seventeen-year run, before working as a salesperson in the technology sector. His efforts not only as an athlete, but his ability to pivot into mainstream corporate America, were heroic.

While youth sports teach and encourage important skillsets and behaviors, such as cooperation, mainstream socialization and responsibility to a group of people, what is most overlooked is that youth sports keep children off the streets for three hours every-day after school. It is the Michael Jordan’s of the world that have inadvertently steered southside Chicago youth from street corners into the local gym. Kids can put two and two together, and that in order to be “like Mike,” they needed a jumper and guidance from their local coach in order to put the ball in the net. One could argue that coaches, often athletes that have transitioned out of a sport, are heroes as well.

Less than one percent of NCAA athletes become professional athletes. However, it was athletics that often propelled the other 99% into school. So, are athletes heroes? The answer is yes. 

Michael Jordan, as the game’s best, is a hero. He put the work in, he is marketable and was perhaps one of the most graceful athletes to play ball. He also embodies the American dream, with a net worth of $1.5 billion.

However, organized athletics in general are the idyllic platform for those from varying backgrounds to become heroes, models and icons to multiple people, but most importantly, to our youth.

This article comes from our partner LA Peach Basket, where you can find fan-inspired articles covering the LA Lakers and Clippers. CLICK HERE to read more!

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