It has been a tough week for heroes in the sports world. Beginning with the letdown of this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame class being shut out, to the betrayal of Lance Armstrong and his belated admission of doping in an Oprah interview and finally the bizarre hoax involving Notre Dame star Manti Te’o and a fake relationship perpetrated on Twitter. In 2013 even those once untouchable sports heroes are being profoundly affected by society’s requirement of personal transparency. We want our sports superstars to succeed off the field just as badly as we want them to play well on it. It begs the question, what should we ask of our heroes and what can we expect in return for our admiration?
As we surveyed 13 nations for our forthcoming book The Athena Doctrine, we found that 82% of people around the world believe that having some failures is critical to overall success (this number nearly rose to 86% among males). So if failure is an acceptable passage in the male narrative, why don't more men believe it? The Hero construct in our culture creates an elixir for the male ego that too often goes unchecked and amplifies into cheating, denial, cover-up and the inevitable fall from grace.
Perhaps it's not heroes, but heroics that really matter. After all, ordinary people do heroic things every day. Ann Johnson is the founder of Adopt a Soldier, a non-profit where citizens support their 'adopted' soldier with boxes of candy, snacks and letters of hope and support. My daughter Nina who is nine, just got her soldier this week. Together we spent the weekend baking cookies, writing letters and learning about Afghanistan. Today the non-profit has 750,000 supporters. In this business model there's enough ordinary heroics going around to fill thirty sports stadiums.