“…be thankful for new young heroes.”
Those are the final words of an article by Gil LeBreton, in the sports section of today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, regarding last Saturday’s collapse of a large fabric and metal practice facility. The article is his contribution to the new pastime of American media-types: find the hero! LeBreton continues,
“These weren’t firemen or policemen. These were players who, within seconds after the collapse, were courageously kicking in a window to free a team scout, lifting heavy steel supports to free a sports writer or ripping apart vinyl with their bare hands to free others.”
My God- can you believe it- “Shredding vinyl with their bare hands” ? And, “courageously kicking in a window” ? These are young football players who have turned around and gone back into a vinyl and metal building that has fallen down. It was not a burning building, and it was not about to explode. There were no known or suspected I.E.D.s anywhere near the facility. There were people yelling for assistance, who had been trapped by the metal beams, one of whom- Rich Behm- was permanently paralyzed.
Is it wrong for me to think that these men who went back to help others are not heroes? What they did was not in the least dangerous to themselves- the players were, in fact, still wearing their pads. They helped lift metal that they were very capable of lifting. They tore vinyl to get at people caught underneath it. They responded as humans for a million years have responded to other friendly humans in trouble, and with very little possible risk to themselves in this case. They were good guys, as almost anyone in their positions at the time would be.
I find the rush to call anyone heroic who does something well, rather silly and very diluting of those few very real heroic efforts which do happen from to time. I personally don’t even call Sully Sullenberger a hero for doing what he did very very well when he landed his aircraft on the Hudson River. A fine, and very cool, and extremely competent pilot? Yes! Give the man a raise, a fine cigar, and a book deal! But he did what he was supposed to do: he landed the plane. He’d trained for such an emergency, hoped he’d never have to use that training, but did use it very well when called upon to do so.
A heroic effort is that which involves entering a conflict when not doing so would be advisable and understandable, in order to ease the burden or danger of another person (or other living being). Heroic efforts do not include-ever- a sports person working to win a game. We have seen some ballplayers recently who forfeited games by doing altruistic things for the other team. That’s heroism. Cutting left, then right, then lowering one’s head as the touchdown is run toward- is not. They do not include little children calling 9-1-1 because their mommy’s unconscious. A terrific kid, well-trained, smart, cute, savvy, etc..absolultely! But there was not a choice involved; he/she did the only they could do.
Heroes (and heroines- it’s a word I’m not using here because it is awkward to do so; understand, though, that there is no gender implied within ‘heroism.’) are not people who offer help at no risk to themselves just because there are people who are paid and the way to do so (EMTs and police or fireman). There is nothing heroic about a 275 offensive tackle in pads helping lift a metal bar off someone who is trapped by that bar. He’d be an absolute ass if he didn’t help!
The absurb overuse of hero designation is a phenomenon of the media, primarily. I do not hear, in normal conversation, the word ever being used. I think there is an intrinsic understanding among most people that there is a hallowedness implicit in the word and that the use of the word hero should be spare. But that is not true of the news-spitters on Channels 4,5,6,7, or 11. Watch them tonight and you WILL see one or more of them succumb to the apparently always-audible sirens’ song of invitation to sing of the great Ulysses’ glorious deeds. The fireman climbing the tree for a cat, the 7’3″ mega-rich forward going in for a layup, and the clerk who ran out of the store and up the street to return a forgotten purse to a customer: sorry, but I’ve seen the pictures of firemen heading up stair cases that are about to come tumbling down. You have, too. And they are my benchmark now for defining heroism.
That may be an impossible high standard, but so be it. Those firemen (and other genuine and real heroes) do not deserve to have the memory of what they did sullied by a local newsman’s desire to inspire and be memorable to his viewing audience. Nor do we deserve to have our own standards lessened.