We’re Running Out Of Heroes

Around three weeks before the IAAF World Championships begin in Moscow, the athletics world has been rocked by the news of sprinters Asafa Powell (Jamaica) and Tyson Gay (USA) both failing doping tests. These are two of the top ten fastest men of all time, so it’s no wonder that some interested parties are going berserk with speculation as to whether the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt will soon be found guilty of the same indiscretion. The Americans have hardly recovered from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal where the Live Strong founder was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles.

For me, the news took me back to a very dark time, when my childhood heroine, former track and field world champion Marion Jones – once hailed as the fastest woman in the world broke my heart along with the hearts of millions in 2007 when she admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. The disgraced American was stripped of all medals dating back to 2000 and sent to federal prison in 2008 for lying to investigators about using steroids. About three weeks after her release, Jones appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about the doping scandal and her time in prison. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch that episode of Oprah! I just wanted to forget about what she had done.

I often say that one should never try to decipher the psychology of a sports fan. We become overly attached to our sports heroes and sports teams. Some of us can be seen weeping in the stands after Orlando Pirates lose to Kaizer Chiefs, others lose their appetite for days after the Bulls lose to the Sharks and others have even been known to give their favourite sports heroes superstardom status and tattoo their names on different body parts.

But my worry is this: Kids growing up wanting to emulate their sports stars and achieve greatness through their talents are running out of heroes. Who are they supposed to look up to in the sporting world when every month there is a new scandal involving the best athletes in the world? And these athletes’ indiscretions don’t just end on the sporting field where they do whatever it takes to be the best, but they filter out into non-sports related activities too.

The horror and devastation of Hansie Cronje admitting to accepting money to throw a match in 2000 against India will forever overshadow the memory of his incredible career as Proteas captain. For boxing fans, Mike Tyson being convicted of raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington was complete heartache. Tiger Woods pained many fans when he admitted to sex addiction which led to the disintegration of his marriage. More recently, Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend. He is innocent of murder until proven guilty but Reeva Steenkamp remains dead at his hand.

Our favourite athletes are only human and capable of making mistakes as we are. If only there was a legal drug we sports fans could take to make us indifferent when our stars let us down and shatter our perceptions of their greatness.

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