There’s a bus shelter I pass on my way to work, advertising an upcoming season of Local Sports Ball. The text splashed across the poster reads “60 YEARS OF HEROES!”.
Did someone lower the bar on what quantifies a “hero”? Are we so desperate for role models that “can throw a ball” is the baseline criteria? The entire idea that professional sporting men are heroes deserving your fanatic worship is everything that’s wrong with America today: yes, they’re good at what they do. Sure, they look great in tight pants and have Gatorade coursing through their veins in lieu of blood. Athletes won the genetic lottery and went on to train hard enough to be physically imposing and sweaty. Good for them! We throw millions of dollars their way, and sometimes they win cups or rings or green jackets and then people litter the streets in their honour. Money is funnelled into sports in staggering quantities, while arts and academia are left holding bake sales to raise money for textbooks that include all 118 elements instead of the just the four attributed to Jesus.
What part of any of this makes them heroes?
This isn’t just my natural tendency to lol sports speaking, but genuine confusion. You can absolutely look up to pro sports player, and admire them, and trade pieces of cardboard with their picture. But heroes? Really?
Back in my day, she said shaking her cane and peering through her bifocals, heroes did amazing things. They saved burning kittens from collapsing buildings, or donated kidneys so another could live. Heroes made astounding discoveries that enriched the world. They dedicated their lives to teaching, or healing, or stopping that guy who kept burning kittens in collapsing buildings. They didn’t throw balls real good, or jump very high, or have abs you could grate cheese on. Years from now millions of people will remember that time LeBron made Ohio cry, but only a few will remember the name of the guy who saved billions from starvation. A guy who can throw a ball makes more than $27 million dollars in a single season. The average teacher salary in 2012? $47,000.
I reject the notion that professional sports players are heroes. I reject the hero ideal I’ve had in mind since I was but wee, that heroes only come in spandex, giant robot, or fully-articulated-with-kung-fu-grip form. Heroes are not Disney princesses or movie stars. I wish this didn’t need saying, but reality TV stars? Also not heroes. If you listen to one thing I ever say about children, make it this: introduce your kid to some REAL heroes. You may never find a poster of Alan Turing to replace all those pictures of David Cassidy or Menudo, but if just ONE kid delivers an essay about Ethel Collins Durham instead of El Santo or Wayne Gretzky*, I will consider my legacy slightly better off than when it was entirely dong-related.
Since I’m up here on this soapbox anyway, here are some people I would consider an actual hero:
- Norman Borlaug started the Green Revolution and introduced ideas that would forever alter the world’s food supply for the better; saving billions from starvation
- Henry Morgentaler campaigned tirelessly for women’s reproductive and health care rights in Canada. If not for his work, my life would be drastically different right now and I am forever grateful for the opportunities afforded me because of the choices I was presented with; options he fought relentlessly for. Also, he’s the Morgentaler in “Me Mom & Morgentaler”, one of my favourite bands.
- Chris Hadfield showed the world that Canadians are awesome while reminding us that space is still this vast, amazing unknown waiting to be discovered, and that science is cool and all around us
- Martha May Eliot and her life partner, Ethel Collins Dunham, did amazing work in public health and pediatrics at a time when women weren’t generally accepted as doctors, let alone experts. Martha was the only woman to sign the World Health Organization into being. These two women are largely the reason any of us lived past the age of two (which is when I did all my best work)
These are just a few of the people that came to mind when I was thinking about heroes and who would fit that bill if they weren’t a giant robot that turned into a truck.
Who are some of your heroes? Bonus points if there’s a Heritage Minute about them!
*: as a Canadian, I am legally obligated to acknowledge that Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all time