Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 2013: Heroes

We love heroes.  We need heroes.  We adore them.  We embellish their personalities and feats to fit the image that we crave from our heroes.
I was fascinated with heroes.  I think I developed this fascination from my Mother.  We lived in Detroit and we were Ford people.  My Grandfather Levon came to Detroit with other Armenians to work in one of Henry Ford’s factory.  Henry Ford took on mythic proportions with many Detroiters and certainly in our family.  Henry Ford was friends with Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone.  He and Edison both had roots in the state of Michigan.  I remember watching Young Tom Edison starring Mickey Rooney and Edison the Man with Spencer Tracey with my Mom.  Sportswise, we had Al Kaline on the Tigers and Gordie Howe with the Red Wings.  It was easy to be fascinated with heroes growing up in Detroit. 
Beyond Ford or maybe because of the fascination with him, I used to read biographies about great scientists, generals, and sportsmen.  I would go to the library check out books about Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe, Alexander Graham Bell, Lou Gehrig, Winston Churchill, Ludwig Van Beethoven, George Armstrong Custer, Douglas MacArthur, Knute Rockne, Abraham Lincoln, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and, of course, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.  I watched biographic movies of these same luminaries.  I was very interested in how they grew up and how they achieved their fame and what they did to overcame adversities. 
The biographies I read as a boy were simple.  They were great stories of what made the heroes special.  These biographies celebrated what made them special as they were growing up and what made them famous and well known in their adult lives.  In these biographies written for young people, the spin was mostly good and noble.  In my teens, I began to read more sophisticated biographies and histories.  I began to see these heroes more as people.  I saw both their merits and their flaws.
I never paid much attention to celebrities that hadn’t somehow done something heroic.  This included movie stars, musicians, and fine artists.  In writing this, I am thinking now that it is a matter of taste as much as anything else.  I suppose it is ingrained somehow in creativity and contribution.
This month there were three sports heroes that were in the news.  They were all portrayed as heroes by the media.  In news that broke this month, two of them fell from grace.  They were Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong.  The third was Stan Musiel who passed away January 20th:  he was all about grace, class, and style.
Courtesy of Armene'
Say it ain’t so Te’o:  Wow.  Unbelievable.  Bizarre.  There are the reactions that most people had to the very strange Manti Te'o story that broke this month. 
Manti Te'o is, of course, the Notre Dame linebacker who won several awards including the Outland and Butkus trophies.   He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting.  Manti Te'o was a good linebacker and huge motivator of his Notre Dame team.  He is one of the reasons that Notre Dame was undefeated in the regular season and played in the BCS National Championship Game. 
Many people became fans of Te'o and were pulling for him to win the Heisman.    Fans did this because of the heart wrenching story that unfolded in week three of the season.  On September 11th, his grandmother passed away in his home state of Hawaii.  Six hours after hearing of the passing his grandmother, his girlfriend (and I swear that I heard of read that she was his fiancé) succumbed to leukemia.  His girlfriend, from her deathbed, made Te'o promise not to leave his team to attend her funeral.  She wanted him to play in her memory.  It is something she really wanted and something that Te'o honored.  It was emotional.  Again, the words wow and unbelievable were uttered by most.  This kind of story and Manti’s performance in that game and the remainder of the season added to the Notre Dame lore.  They beat the Michigan State Spartans 13-6.  The commentators made a big deal of it.  The camera always seemed to focus in on Te'o who always looked emotional hurt yet resolved, looking to the heavens, or kneeling almost in prayer after a big play. Coach Kelly awarded the game ball to Manti after the game.  It was very emotional in both a gut wrenching and legendary way.
I remember thinking two things when I heard about the two losses in one day.  First, like everyone else, I thought how awful this was.  My heart went out to Te'o.  Second, I thought what a great inspiring story that Notre Dame lore and legend is made of.  I also thought that if he were to have a very good season, which he did, he might with the Heisman because of this.
As we all know now, the girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, simply did not exist.   It was a hoax. The hoax took in sport fans, broadcasters, and reporters alike.  The story of the hoax broke on January 16 on  The lead reporters for the story were Jack Dickey and Tim Burke.  When the story broke it was all over twitter, facebook, and other news and social media outlets.  The only comment from Te'o was a tweet that said he was the victim of a hoax.  The Notre Dame AD gave a press conference in the evening in which he said that he and University totally support, believed Te'o, and believed Te'o was innocent and a victim. 
This has become a wild and crazy story.  What really happened?  The reporters are now starting to dig.  The truth is slowly coming out.  I do not believe Te'o hands are clean here.  There seems to be too many contradictions in what he has said earlier and the stance he seems to be taking now.
If Te'o is innocent and a victim, he comes off looking like the most naive person ever or just a plain moron.  This is the best scenario I see for him at this point.  Anything else, he ends up bearing some guilt and comes off as a liar and manipulator. 
As it turns out, it was a hoax and he was a victim.  The hoax was quite sophisticated and it seems that one could have easily been taken in.  But, to call someone you never met your girlfriend?  That is not a girlfriend, it is a pen pal.  So at minimum, he is embarrassingly naïve.
He allowed everyone to assume that it was a real, normal, relationship.  You all know the kind.  It is where the couple goes to the movies, catches a bite to eat before or after, hold hands, etc.  I am sorry you cannot have a girlfriend that you never ever met. 
There is undoubtedly, in my mind, a component of complicity.  He may have been duped at the onset, but I believe he used the story to propel his stature and newsworthiness.  Early on in the reporting of this story, and less so now, Manti’s teammates were quoted as saying that he liked the attention and he went with story.  Heck, it almost got him the Heisman trophy. 
The whole thing still smells awfully fishy to me and Manti is a fallen hero.
Liar Armstrong:  While the Te'o story was unfolding another long standing sport story was coming to closure as well.  Cycling's greatest athlete, Lance Armstrong, was coming clean and admitting to the world that he used performance enhancing drugs during each and every one of his Tour de France wins. 
I had bought and read both of Lance's books.  I wrote and blogged about him in the most terms (my July 2005 Letter being the substantive of the blogs that referenced Lance).  His overcoming cancer was an incredible story.  His achievements were afterwards was even impressive. He was an inspiration to all cancer patients, all cancer survivors, and cyclists of every level all over the world.  He was an inspiration to me.  I rode my longest rides, most rides per year, and most miles per year when he was at his peak. 
There were always people, on the fringes, that were writing and suggesting that he was doping and using performance enhancement drugs.  He would steadfastly and vehemently deny every such allegation.  His argument was simple and sensible.  As a cancer survivor, he would never use any substance that might affect his health.  As a cancer survivor, he treasured his health too much.  He would, per his own words, in the Oprah interview, bully anyone who accused him of doing what he has now admitted to.  He bullied them well for several years.
Lance Armstrong’s achievements were truly unbelievable.  The operative word here is unbelievable.  Many people bought into his story because we wanted a superman.  We needed a hero.  I wanted a hero like Lance.  He overcame cancer and won the Tour de France a record number of times.  What a feel good story.  What an inspiration to us all.
What a liar.  What a con artist. What a fool he made out of us.  What a fool he made of me.
I watched the Oprah interviews.  He admitted, nonchalantly, his wrong doings.  I did not detect much remorse.  He seemed matter of fact, going through the motions.  I thought he might even write another book:  Mea Culpa and What I Learned or maybe Mea Culpa and I don’t Care.  I probably will not buy nor read that or anything else Lance Armstrong has ghostwritten for him.
All in all, I am not devastated.  I am not even really mad at him.  I am a little disappointed in myself for not being more skeptical and questioning about his absolute dominance in cycling including competitors that did dope their blood and use performance enhancing drugs.
Lance Armstrong was a hero to me and many others.  Manti Te'o was not a quite a hero to me, as he was for so many others, but I did admired him, his accomplishments, how he overcame adversity, and how he inspired and led his team.  Are their egos that unbelievably huge that they will do whatever they can to win?  And what were they really trying to win?  It seems fame and notoriety at whatever cost? 
I understand having a competitive spirit and a desire to win.  But, the ends do not justify the means. This is a message that we learn very young.  People cannot simply do anything they feel like simply to win.  At that point it is not a desire to win; it is more an obsession with fame, ego, and fortune.  That is all.  Lance Armstrong lies, cheats, and bullies others for fame, ego, and fortune.  No matter if Manti Te'o was duped up front or not.  He used the ruse to almost win himself a Heisman Trophy.  He too was motivated by fame, ego, and fortune.  Both athletes were addicted to an adoring public and basically lied and cheated.    There is nothing pure about sport when so much fame and fortune intertwined.  Undetected corruption is rewarded and the lure to behave in such a manner, given the fame and fortune, simply overwhelms many.
Who is worse, probably Armstrong but it does not matter. It was a crappy couple of days in the sporting world.
Stanley Frank Musial (1920 – 2013) was from another era and another cut of cloth then either Armstrong or Te’o.  Stan Musial played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.  He did so for 22 seasons.  Contrary to the free agent world today, he played with just one team.  Also contrary to what the celebrity style heroes of today do, he married once, to Lillian, and stayed married for 72 years until she passed away last year.
Stan Musial was a favorite son of Donora, PA but even more so of St. Louis.  He was a great player and hitter. He had many accolades and everyone agrees that if he had played for the Yankees instead of in St. Louis, he would be regarded with Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and DiMaggio.
Broadcaster Bob Costas eulogized Stan Musial and said:
What was the hook with Stan Musial other than the distinctive stance and the role of one of baseball's best hitters?  It seems that all Stan had going for him was more than two decades of sustained excellence as a ballplayer and more than nine decades as a thoroughly decent human being.  Where is the single person to truthfully say a bad word about him?

A St. Louis fan summed it up best: 
He's been a hero to us for four generations. He was such a good man, somebody you can hold up to grand-kids and your own kids as an example of who they should be.

 The above quotes were from Huffington Post - Musial.  You can also watch the moving Bob Costas eulogy on this site.
Stan Musial only made $100,000/year twice in 1958 and 1959.  In each of his other years he made less.  He made much less than Lance Armstrong and whatever Manti Te’o will eventually make.  Stan Musial got the fame.  He achieved his fame through his pure dedication and performance.  His true fortune was the mark he made on everyone that ever knew him.
I could write much more on what made Stan “The Man” Musial so special.  Rather, watch the Costas eulogy or simply read the wonderful piece in Forbes by Ken Makovsky:  My 'Thing' for Stan Musial.

I would take one Stan Musial over ten Lance Armstrongs and Manti Te’os any day.

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