The unfolding tragedy of the hero, Oscar Pistorius, while in some respects too inconclusive for specific discussion, questions of who did what and maybe why will be answered by experts other than me, is cause for reflective pause.
Lance Armstrong’s implosion, Michael Jordan’s fiftieth birthday, and an empty Baseball Hall of Fame Induction, along with the on going story of concussion, grief, and death that hangs over football and hockey all beg us to reconsider our heroes in sport and what we require of them.
An interview with Mike Piazza on the Daily Show sheds surprising light on the conversation. Mike, the greatest hitting catcher ever, tells John “Being a professional athlete isn’t the most healthy life-style sometimes.”
One of the most surprising challenges in contact sport is that players are unwilling to admit that they are suffering concussion-like symptoms.
Reading a masterful ESPN article on the greatest competitor of our generation is sobering and touching when Michael Jordan says “"It's an addiction. You ask for this special power to achieve these heights, and now you got it and you want to give it back, but you can't. If I could, then I could breathe." I was again struck by what an impossible task it is to be the best at something, and still inhabit the world of the living. Maybe this is why Achilles sailed on Troy knowing what awaited him there. Jordan felt a bit of that. He thought he would die young, never planning to make it to fifty.
All this to say nothing of disability.
He was every bit the sensation of Michael Jordan, or any other who redefined what was possible, but he had no legs.
This is the man who is awaiting trial for murdering his girlfriend.
But as John Hockenberry, the Host of NPR’s “The Take Away,” tells us there is more. Nothing that will make Oscar Pistorius a hero again, nothing that will change the outcome of the court case, but more. More than we may have understood watching him run. Maybe something that will help us understand those whose bodies don’t conform to our perceived norms, and maybe something that will help us understand those who defy our perceived possibility.
None of this changes the fact that a woman is dead and another hero has fallen. Another story, scripted to be inspiring, as twisted back and devoured itself, but maybe this horror can bring us one step closer to allowing our peers on this planet simply to be human. Do something to ease the burden of being different, maybe by realizing how different we all are.
We need to know that it is as acceptable to be strong as it is to be weak, and that what makes each of us valuable is how strength and weakness mix in us. It is acceptable for the double amputee or the basketball star to be upset, and to be angry, and to be imperfect. It is acceptable to sit out a few games or a season to allow your brain to heal.
We must realize that we are the drivers. It is our wish for mastery and the illusion of control that we are paying them to flirt with while we watch. We pay them to play our fantasy of possibility and discard them when they break and prove to only be better than us at one pursuit.
It is unacceptable that we allow so many of our own to be broken on the seawall of our schadenfreude, driven only by our crashing waves fantasy.
Arthur Morris is principal at tenlitre, a consulting firm in Salt Lake City, Utah. He lived just outside Chicago during the 3peat, and remembers what it's like to worship Michael Jordan.