Hero- overused word of the hour..


“…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.

7 thoughts on “Hero- overused word of the hour..

  1. Sports writers, when doing “human interest” stories, might be the worst–I could point you ESPN’s Rick Reilly calling Elway a “god” for being nice to Rick Reilly’s nephew. No joke. Anyway, sportswriters aren’t, by and large, the smartest writers around. (There are a couple exceptions.) Similarly, local television news anchors are notoriously dimwitted, rendered mute by failed teleprompters and inane by the format’s requisite “crosstalk”.

    I wonder then if this is all just a product of people being inarticulate–a limited vocabulary, too few synonyms, etc. Or, if people don’t see their stories now as movies playing in their minds–bad movies, generally–so that “hero” and “god” are the only ways they can think to recreate the slow-motion and the violins swelling in their head.

    But we will allow people to substitute this hyperbole for a lack of substance all the time. I’m thinking here about Cheney’s “mushroom clouds”–another image, of course, that relies on our shared cinematic language. (It’s both awful and awesome–perfect for inciting not terror, but petty fear.)

    Either way. Yes, words like “hero” will automatically cause some people to tear up and maybe cry–as will swelling violins–but this sort of exaggeration does more harm to a story than good. (See Iraq War.) It makes it temporary, momentarily emotional but immediately forgettable. And yes, this has changed over the years, this cheapening of language. It has gotten worse. Were the people who stormed Normandy heroes? Maybe, but ask them what they think, and you’ll get a very different answer.

    So what do we do? In the end, I guess we should be more critical about what we input, since that so influences what comes out. If we all read better books (once upon a time, everyone just read “Grapes of Wrath” for fun, can you imagine?) and saw better movies, we might learn to say what we actually mean. Or, at least to think critically and reject the influence of those who don’t value, or who abuse, the value of words and the importance of images.

  2. with there being a bazillion competing cable “news” channels running 24/7 drama needs to be created out of every situation possible..think about having to keep the advertisers happy 24/7 @ 365 days a year…i don’t believe hardly any of what I hear on the cable news…I mean they are now discussing how President Obama uses a tele-prompter and likes spicy mustard on his hamburger..information I do not need, want or care about…and to these things are attached all kinds of crazy theories and nutty comments…like he is a socialist because he uses spicy mustard (I think because Europe uses spicy mustard & I guess Europeans are Socialists???) and someone else is writing for him and he just reads off the prompter so now we need to find out who is behind the scenes writing for him- that’s the person who is now in charge of the Country. Blah blah blah…I wish they could all see how rediculous they look to us!! I usually watch for a good laugh!!!!!!!

    We have to look like a bunch of fools to the world as they watch this nonsense…pathetic!

  3. For me, firefighters, policemen, and soldiers do not qualify for the term hero. They get paid to do what they do. The author pointed out that he thought the pilot landing the aircraft in water was not a hero because he did what he was trained (and PAYED!) to do. Same thing with police, firefighters, and soldiers. It is expected of them and its not like it is a lone act. They got back up.

    A hero is somebody who risks grave injury or death to help somebody else with no expected reward for action. Imagine some conflict (a burning building, a small group of thugs beating on someone). Plenty of bystanders would want to do something, but not have the courage to do it. A hero would act.

    When we start overusing the word hero, it loses its meaning.

    • Police and firefighters are DEFINITELY not heroes and it makes me sick everytime one of them gets praised as being a hero. Especially firefighters. You apply to be a firefighter knowing that you are going to be sitting by doing nothing and having an amazing schedule until an accident happens. Meaning you get paid good money with good benefits to wait around for a dangerous situation to happen. When a house is falling because of a fire and there is a family in there, you are getting paid and it is your job to go in there and rescue the family, hence the name “fire rescue”.

    • Agree they are doing the job they chose and get paid for.They knew they would be put in dangerous situations. It does not make them a hero at every rescue they make, it’s called training being put to use. Should I call the IT guy in my office a hero when he fixed my computer,or the vet for helping fix my dog. Yes hero, the citizen who jumped in the freezing water to save that women when the planed crashed in D C. Even if that person was a paid rescue personal in my opinion that was heroic.

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