"Who is your hero?"
This was a question that I heard multiple times when I was growing up. Was it my dad? A firefighter? Police officer? Perhaps an athlete? I was never really sure.
I had trouble with this question because a hero was supposed to be Superman. Yeah, I suppose the firefighter saved people and the officer protected us, but they were abstract people. That is, I wanted a specific person to look up to, not an occupation filled by any number of men and women.
That led me to the athlete. Okay, they were not much more than entertainers, but everyone loved them and they were famous. In particular, the person I loved the most when I was growing up was Kirby Puckett. He received the biggest cheers from the fans, his name was announced with the most flair from Bob Casey, and I heard the tales of his Game 6 heroics. He may not have been a hero in my eyes, but he was as close as one could get.
That is, until the controversies hit. First, Puckett developed glaucoma in his eye after being struck in the face by a Dennis Martinez fastball. That alone was devastating for me as a kid because the star from the local baseball team was no more. However, that wasn't the last of it as his ex-wife made allegations that he was violent towards her in their marriage. There was also the woman that he pulled into a restaurant bathroom and then touched her breast. Though he wasn't charged for either incident, it was clear that Kirby Puckett was far more than the jovial center fielder that I had loved as a kid.
You've probably predicted by now that Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are the main reason why I've written this article. You would be correct, but I'm not going to spend time recapping their recent events as you can find more than enough to satiate (or annoy) yourself elsewhere on the Internet and at your employer's water cooler. These stories of those two running backs simply reminded me of a time when I looked up to an athlete, only to learn that there was a dark side to him. The same narrative has been written into history by countless other players, whether it's been assault, theft, rape, drunk driving, etc.
Learning about Puckett after his retirement certainly hurt, just as I imagine there have been some people hurt by the news about Rice and Peterson. When I have children, there will be one fact I want them to know as soon as possible. It's okay to have one of your parents be your hero. Go ahead and look up to the firefighters, the police officers, whatever you want. Just avoid the athlete. All that money and fame is just fuel to the flame that kills the hero inside.