We place our heroes on pedestals, athletes because they can catch or run or hit a ball better than anyone else, movie stars because they can deliver a line written by someone else better than anyone else, or in the case of some actors like an Eastwood or Stallone because they can grimace or groan better than anyone else. We place them all on high and kneel before a throne called the box office. We pay them ridiculous amounts of money and let them live fairy-tale lives, but god help them if they disappoint us by proving they are human, that they have feet of clay.
I am reminded of a scene from a good movie called My Favorite Year, released in 1982, starring a really good actor, Peter O’Toole. O’Toole plays an aging, swashbuckling actor named Allan Swann who, because he is also a raging drunk, is taken under the wing of a junior comedy writer named Benjy who has always looked up to the actor. When he learns that his hero has feet of clay, he starts to become disillusioned, and when Swann proclaims that he is not a hero, he is an actor, Benjy says he need heroes, needs them larger than life, needs to look up to them.
Benjy was right. We need real-life heroes. We all need someone to look up to, and we need heroes trying to save us, something we can believe in. When we find out they are not who we thought, that they have an Achilles heel, it totally disrupts our emotions, sending us head over heels into an “I can’t accept this” state of mind.
It may surprise many New Englanders, but there are people across America who have barely, if ever, heard of Aaron Hernandez. He was a hometown hero, and when he seemingly let us down, some turned on him with a vengeance. When news broke that he had apparently killed himself, many danced on his grave, forgetting that we were the ones who made him larger than life. It was our hard-earned dollars that gave him a $40 million a year contract, and it was our hero worship that made him infallible.
I think we do need larger-than-life heroes, but we are not going to find them on the silver screen, the baseball diamond, or the football gridiron, and we don’t need to pay them ridiculous amounts of money. The real heroes are fire fighters, police, teachers, and doctors, to name just a few, and how about the amputee who carried his guide across the finish line at the Boston Marathon? Now that’s my idea of a hero. But I will not forget he is also human, not a god.
You may be convinced that Aaron Hernandez did it, but I am not convinced. I am convinced that he was a person with a multitude of emotional and mental issues and a victim of a system that would have rather had him play football than help him with his problems, as we knelt before a throne called the box office.