Where have all the heroes gone?

April 18, 2011

I was browsing the newspapers this morning and came across a rare article in the sports section – it was a story about a professional athlete and it wasn’t about doping or violence or greed or gambling. It was actually about an athlete who appears to be an incredibly positive role model. An athlete who is a winner in every sense of the word – not a whiner. His name is Kevin Durant and he tolls for the small market Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA. He was the NBA’s leading scorer this past season and by all measures a superstar. What sets him apart from other superstars of his time is perhaps the way he goes about achieving excellence on and off the hardwood floor. Despite his accomplishments he appears honoured to play for Oklahoma City Thunder with never a mention of the bright lights and fast life of South Beach. His coach says he’s one of the hardest workers on the team, at practice and in games – he never takes a night off. Durant himself attributes his approach to life and basketball to his mother, “My mom, you know, she pushed me every day...making sure my brother and I were ready for school....she made sure we were straight at night.”

Usually the sports section is littered with negative stories of the various escapades of professional sports superstars. And so are the all sports radio and television channels which provide a steady diet of these stories for our kids to feed on every day. All too rare are the stories like the one about Kevin Durant. So why is that? Is it because the values-based, principle-driven professional athlete is a rarity, or is it because the media tends to ignore their stories?

Kevin Durant attributes his success to his mother, his family. This is a common theme among clean athletes when you ask them why they chose not to cheat by doping. The values instilled by their family, from a young age, set them on the right course where even the temptations of fame and fortune couldn’t lead them astray. So I suspect that just as there are many more athletes that compete clean than cheat by doping, so too are there many more athletes who are exemplary role models on and off the field of play. Professional athletes who model respect, effort, fairness, safety and fun. Athletes who give back to their communities. But sadly these stories don’t make the daily sports news loops – only the negative ones do. And hence we get the trickledown effect of these negative stories into our community sport system with all the tragic consequences that come with them.

It’s not that there are no professional sports heroes that we would want our kids to model themselves after – it’s just that their stories are well kept secrets thanks to the sports media and their appetite for the negative.