W4, #6: OUR NEED FOR HEROES EVERYWHERE

Set-Up:  If I’m doing the math correctly, most of you were about about ready to enter Kindergarten or 1st grade in 1998.

This was the year — summer, actually — when the then-Cubs player Sammy Sosa and the then-Cardinals player Mark McGwire dueled it out all season to break the seemingly-unbreakable Major League Baseball single-season home run record.

To baseball fans, this was a big, big, big, big deal.  To non-baseball fans, this became a big, big, big, big deal.  It was about home runs.  Bigger than that, it was about one of the oldest ‘records’ in our culture on the verge of being broken…and everybody was drawn in.  Even bigger than that, it was a classic tale of 2 ‘heroes’ facing off.

Game after game after game as the entire country watched.  Held their breath.  Leaned forward.  Wondered.  Wondered.  Wondered.  Cheered…

…until something unthinkable happened after the record was broken.

Challenge:

  • Read the following article — “Mark McGwire’s Summer of Love” — about that season, about that record, about those ‘heroes’, about what came next.
  • Share with us what you noticed about the discussion of ‘heroes’ in this article.
  • Suggest what this says about our need — as a culture — for heroes and what happens when our heroes let us down.
  • Optional:  suggest what you think this might have to do with our discussions the rest of the year in terms of heroes and audiences — good, bad, and mysterious.

Length: 7+ sentences

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16 responses to “W4, #6: OUR NEED FOR HEROES EVERYWHERE

  1. This article was a sad and interesting story about a true american heros fall from stardom.

    In the middle of the summer ten years ago, people would be raving about what fabulous players Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were at the time. Sadly for them, due to the bad decisions that they made during their career they are known as sort of the ‘american enemy’ because they defied what we see as the American way which is playing fair and hard work to achieve your goal and especially not cheating.

    As a culture we Americans are constantly looking up for some great athlete to become the next great American athlete, somewhat like what Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Tony Romo are currently viewed as. When we learn that these heroes of ours may have been cheating and using performance-enhancing drugs, we feel heartsick inside because the people we looked up to had been cheating which is not the American way.

    This article was a true fall from grace of a former American hero.

    ***

    Mr. Long: Really appreciate how you approached this article, especially your final line. Also, interesting word choice: “heartsick”.

    I wonder why that is. Why do you think our culture needs to put athletes (or other people — celebrities, politicians, etc) on a pedestal? Also, do you think that the fact that we do this also inspires people to make poor choices to maintain that ‘heroic’ status?

    I think you’ll find it interesting when we discuss this same issue within literature…and suddenly see that it seems to happen in the same evolutionary way in both real and fictional tales.

  2. I thought it was a very interesting article because it addressed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa not only in their primes, but also what happened after, when they were no longer in the national spotlight.

    The only reason that McGwire and Sosa were heroes was because they had athletic talent. They were good at their job- hitting home runs. These men were doing what they were paid to do, and the nation went gaga over it. Perhaps the measure of what a true hero is not what they can do in their comfort zone, but exactly how far out on a limb they are willing to go. Americans like the glamour and the drama of sports, and in the summer of 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire brought plenty of it. Perhaps the measure of what a true hero is not what they can do in their comfort zone, but exactly how far out on a limb they are willing to go. The relatively shallow reasons for this idolatry was realized later when both McGwire and Sosa were linked to steroids. Did Americans know these men personally, what they were truly like, or did they just admire them from afar, fall in love with their physical power? It is interesting how sometimes the person you think is the hero is actually the one pressing a knife to your back, or in this case, betraying the admiration and respect of 300 million people.

    To Americans, heroes are a necessity. We see in them what we ourselves cannot do, or are too scared to try. Why is Michael Phelps so popular? Because no one else on the planet can do what he did by winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics. In America, it is all about the glitz and glamour, and almost all of the ‘heroes’ in the tabloids are rich, and extremely successful in some way. It is these dramatic stories and people that rivet the nation’s attention, not the stories that fly under the radar, but are actually more impressive. The majority of people in the United States believe in some god or another, whether it be THE God, or Allah. They worship this specific god according to their religion, but there is always a distance between God and them, because we do not see Him. Therefore, there is an air of mystery of that which we do not understand about our religious God. However, when we see these amazing people doing freakishly amazing things in our own nation, we instantly are fascinated by them. These heroes are our “real life gods,” which we can see and touch, and are human, just like all of us. We associate these people with all of our hopes and dreams, and it is because when they fail that they let us down.

    ***

    Mr. Long: A striking comment that will grab your reader right away: “These men were doing what they were paid to do, and the nation went gaga over it. Perhaps the measure of what a true hero is not what they can do in their comfort zone, but exactly how far out on a limb they are willing to go.” Brilliantly phrased…and this will be a home run (so to speak) when we dive into the “hero’s journey” model in the coming weeks.

    Just when I thought you had already impressed me, this won me over: “To Americans, heroes are a necessity. We see in them what we ourselves cannot do, or are too scared to try.”

    BTW, you have NO idea how solid of a response this is: “These heroes are our “real life gods,” which we can see and touch, and are human, just like all of us. We associate these people with all of our hopes and dreams, and it is because when they fail that they let us down.” Outstanding!

  3. This article follows the rise to fame of Sosa and McGwire portraying these two individuals as American ‘heroes.’ The ability of these athletes was amazing and truly inspiring to thousands of spectators. This inspiration seemed completely pure in that it came from the great American sport of baseball. However when it is discovered that perhaps these heroes are not natural talents this innocent admiration feels cheated. The spectators of this sport feel as though they have been fooled and put so much faith into something that wasn’t even honest. Though most spectators do not know the players, they feel as though they have a relationship with them because they are connected through the love of the sport. Because a relationship exists this betrayal of trust was stinging to not only baseball fans but all Americans. This hurt is somewhat selfish because individuals are angry that they have placed their faith into someone and then the athletes turn and act as if that hope means nothing. This demeaning act, intentional or not, is one which causes people to become defensive and take back the hope which they so generously had invested.

    As a culture we’re continuously searching for that one individual or group that can fulfill our need for a ‘hero.’ We place a lot of ourselves into individuals if we believe that they will give that fulfillment to us. Though we may always look for that hero as a culture we realize that every person has their own definition of a hero and that is unique to them. This fact is why it is truly an exciting occurrence when many people believe in the same hero. Our culture wants terribly for our heroes to be pure and completely good and heroic by nature having an innate immortality within them. This expectation is one which we have let go of and even begun to ignore. We tend to have a selective lens when it comes to the faults of our heroes. Though the baseball players were probably on drugs for a long while, we as fans want to completely deny that accusation. If we cannot control our ability to see past the faults of our heroes we may continuously be let down by those which we admire. Ignoring flaws is not the right approach and so perhaps we can embrace flaws, which are not illegal like steroid use, and accept the fact that perhaps the best heroes are those which make mistakes but handle them in a truly noble manner.

    This article relates to the future of this class in that already there is a theme of discussing what it truly means to be a hero and what expectations come with this title. This analysis has revealed the fact that this title is given due to the perspective of an individual and therefore is based upon the individual making the statement. For instance, in Robin Hood many individuals saw Little John and not Robin as the hero because they viewed the story in a different way. Also in Beowulf though it would be difficult to argue that Beowulf wasn’t the hero of the story it could be argued that other heroes existed throughout the tale as well and perhaps if the story had of been told in order to glorify them then Beowulf would not stand out as the true hero. As the year progresses it is realized that every story truly contains some form of a hero in order to convey a message and keep the readers attention invested in the story. If this similarity is needed in order to maintain the interest of an audience it seems that the audience is to obsessed with the struggles of one individual or gorup. This is due to the ausdience’s ability to relate everything in life back to themselves and in that hero or group they undoubtebly see themselves and therefore the story is interesting.

    ***

    Mr. Long: Gorgeous set of ideas expressed here: “However when it is discovered that perhaps these heroes are not natural talents this innocent admiration feels cheated. The spectators of this sport feel as though they have been fooled and put so much faith into something that wasn’t even honest. Though most spectators do not know the players, they feel as though they have a relationship with them because they are connected through the love of the sport.” Very well argued!

    Yes, yes, yes: “Though we may always look for that hero as a culture we realize that every person has their own definition of a hero and that is unique to them. This fact is why it is truly an exciting occurrence when many people believe in the same hero.” This is probably why we feel so let down because the reaction becomes amplified, an exponential pain shared (as well as joy shared).

    BTW, your final sentence in the response is central to what we’ll wrestle with the entire year.

  4. This article was fascinating but also depressing at the same time. People look for athletes or political figures to turn to every day. The fans just feel let down when they hear that their American ‘hero’ is on drugs. They turn to some other ‘hero’ to cheer for when that happens. Sammy Sosa and Marc McGwire were talented players of their time. It was a major let down when fans heard about them taking steroids.

    It is a major disappointment when fans hear that their ‘hero’ is letting his country down when he uses drugs.

    ***

    Mr. Long: Agree with you re: depressing and fascinating. Such is the way of our ‘hero’ adoration in this culture of ours.

  5. The need for heroes is a very interesting one. I get a lot of people who say they don’t have a hero. I wonder about them. I think it’s because they think they need to be self-sufficient and will be showing weakness by admiring someone.

    These three responses really are impressive, as usual.

    So, what do you do when a hero lets you down?

    ***

    Mr. Long: Mmm, I wonder when my beloved students are going to make a bee-line for this Matt Langdon guy’s web site? (he smiles that impish grin that only geeky English teacher types can make and not feel foolish)

    What? How do they get there? Mmm. Wonder what might happen if they clicked his name on the blog (right up above his comment). Mmm. Like a rabbit hole, no?

    Talk about a potential debate topic: “I get a lot of people who say they don’t have a hero. I wonder about them. I think it’s because they think they need to be self-sufficient and will be showing weakness by admiring someone.”

    Great point, Matt!

  6. The article talked about Sosa and McGwire being heros for the American citizens. Their ability to hit homeruns awed everyone. Within the article, they said Sosa and McGwire were heroes because of their ability to hit homeruns.

    After figuring out they used steroids to hit homeruns, this hurt everyone. Fans thought that their ability came through hard work and practice, becoming their natural talent. This let the fans believe they may play as either one of them through hard work. After the finding of steroids, all the hard work and admiration of the fans was lost forever. Their supernatural ability to hit homeruns made them look like heroes.

    This taught us, as a society, an important lesson. We need to stop looking at those people doing unreal things. Although they are considered heroes in the eyes of the people, they are just doing at what they do best, without any aids of course. Everyone is a equal hero, containing characteristics helping certain others. We should depend on people that help us in return, those that matter.

    ***

    Mr. Long: I love this point of yours: “Everyone is a equal hero, containing characteristics helping certain others. We should depend on people that help us in return, those that matter.”

    One thing, however:

    Why do you think every culture since the dawn of time has looked up to ‘super’ heroes when we really need people — at ground level — to rely on? Does it serve some primal need, even if it is out-of-reach?

  7. I just want to start off saying that I remember that season. My family is really big into baseball and so everything I hear everything related to it. I didn’t realize how much I remembered about this until I read the article.

    I remember thinking how strong those guys were and how they must have super strength and that I wanted to be really strong just like them (hey maybe that helped me eat my veggies). It also brings back the memories of hearing about the trials and the disappointment that went with them. I had thought of McGwire and Sosa as being awesome and really talented, but the fact that they might have cheated really crushed the admiration and high status that I held for them.

    When Sosa came to the Rangers in 06 I didn’t even care anymore. He had let me down and I didn’t want to deal with him anymore. This is one of the many examples of heroes who have let me down in my life. Some weren’t as bad as others, but that disappointment breaks my heart every time I get let down. I may just pick bad heroes, but still I hate being let down. The many heroes that I have had who let me down have helped to shape who I am today. I don’t trust people very easily and I don’t really let anyone in. I don’t want to face that disappointment I had as a child and even in recent times.

    Anyway this article discusses how we hold heroes to a high standard, and how they aren’t always honest. It tells how people aren’t always who they are. It tells how we sometimes even ignore some things that our heroes do wrong, just to preserve how we think of them. And it reminds us that they are going to mess up, because they are only human. The article also shows that they don’t want to disappoint us, and that they may even be disappointed in themselves for disappointing us.
    I guess my story that I started with tells you about out culture’s need for heroes. That desire to be them, and thinking that we can live through them makes them the perfect thing to aspire to.

    I think this has to do with our future discussions, because if they are a hero or not depends on the reader. We will face different opinions after reading the same stories and they will depend on the individual’s values and mindset.

    ***

    Mr. Long: I wonder if heroes — by nature — actually ‘let us down’ as part of their journey, or at least threaten to on some fundamental level. Can a hero be ‘human’ if they remain perfect or never make a mistake that risks our opinions?

    Guess you answered that to a degree here:

    “It tells how we sometimes even ignore some things that our heroes do wrong, just to preserve how we think of them. And it reminds us that they are going to mess up, because they are only human.”

  8. This article is a sad reminder that there will always be people out there who will try to find a way around the rules of an honorable game. People, especially little kids and teenagers, look up to people like Sosa or McGwuire as their role models, but that idea is all shattered the moment that they found out the once great hero that they looked up to turned out to be an imposter.

    It’s not right for a person to think that they can be able to be good at sports, anything for that matter, by just taking the easy way out or cheating. It takes the point of the game away, because the person who’s considered to be the “best” at something should only be there because of THEIR own hard work and determination to reach that spot, not because they used some drug or chemical that enhanced their performance. But the fact that so many people are doing it nowadays is scary and somewhat disturbing and the people tend to ignore all of this.

    Why? Because they don’t want to accept the fact that the thing that they believe in most isn’t real, and because their probably full of pride.

    ***

    Mr. Long: Wow; this definitely grabbed my attention:

    “But the fact that so many people are doing it nowadays is scary and somewhat disturbing and the people tend to ignore all of this.

    Why? Because they don’t want to accept the fact that the thing that they believe in most isn’t real, and because their probably full of pride.”

    Funny, while I was watching sprinter Bolt (the Jamaican) destroy 2 world records in the Olympics this summer, the 1st thing that came to mind was, “Is he on something?” 5 years ago, I’d never have even imagined such a thought.

    And Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest athletic heroes ever considered — who is trying to come out of retirement to win a supernatural 8th Tour de France next summer — has hired a film crew to follow him for a full year to prove he is not taking any supplements.

    How bizarre is that???

  9. I am not particularly a baseball fan. I like going to see the Rangers on the 4th of July and occasionally I’ll watch a game or two on TV. So I never really knew about this event during the summer of ’98. I only knew that baseball and steroids as far as I could remember had been connected. It is sad to think that these two players ruined their heroic titles through the use performance enhancing drugs. But, still I do give them some reason for this use. Pressure. “When one of them didn’t hit a home run, it was a letdown.” This kind of fan base, always expecting the best and the most amazing from athletes takes away the thrill of the game for an athlete. You stop playing for yourself and you start playing for others. This doesn’t work in sports, trying to impress someone. You have to play because you love it not for money or fame. This is part of the reason I find collegiate and amateur sports so much more entertaining to watch than professional, because they do it for love.

    America was formed on the basis of the heroic underdog. From our nation’s birth, Americans have always been creating heroes in our society. We live for heroes. We find them in sports, politics and pretty much every aspect of life. Americans cling to their proclaimed heroes. We put all of our faith in them and if they let us down they are quickly demoted from their heroic status and are cast away and forgotten. The article mentions “[Heroes] can serve as an escape from the vagaries [of life]” This is so true. We try to live an epic adventurous part of our lives through those we claim as heroes. So if they let us down they are truly destroying a part of our lives we love! Seriously if Michael Phelps hadn’t made all eight gold medals would we be mentioning him? No.

    That is why it is sad that people claim Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire as no good players, druggies. For it those people, their ‘loving’ fans that have created these villainous heroes and those same people, who degrade and leave them, villains with no act of heroics to their name.

    ***

    Mr. Long: This alone was worth reading your fantastic/layered response:

    “That is why it is sad that people claim Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire as no good players, druggies. For it those people, their ‘loving’ fans that have created these villainous heroes and those same people, who degrade and leave them, villains with no act of heroics to their name.”

    Wonder if this happens in every culture and at all times, or if this is a modern US and modern media issue.

    You?

    BTW, wow: “Seriously if Michael Phelps hadn’t made all eight gold medals would we be mentioning him? No.” And what will he/others have to do in the future to impress us?

  10. Our culture wants heroes to look up to and aspire to meet even a fraction of their accomplishments. When someone looks up to someone they don’t see faults in that person easily and it is shocking when they finally see them. The discovery of the two baseball stars using steroids was one of these shocking discoveries. This kind of discovery humanizes heroes and shows the world how they are very much like everyone else and if you work hard enough you might be able to do something as great as them. All of this just reinforces the fact that as great as many heroes are, no human is perfect, everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes the skill that the heroes, or in this case baseball players, have are so great that it is very hard to believe and they are almost expected to meet failure. These discoveries may reduce some of the splendor that the heroes have but ultimately, their accomplishments are still great no matter what. I think this might have to do with how we explore the minds of heroes in the future and discover how they are driven and affect the people around them. We will probably learn more about how heroes set themselves apart from other humans and break free of the humanization.

  11. To begin with, I want to express how clever Passan is to compare the counterculture’s Summer of Love to that of McGwire and Sosa by writing how both were “ wondrous and carefree, where drug use was ignored and life celebrated”. Jimi and Janis are still viewed by many as musical and poetic heroes. Sosa and McGwire are now seen by some as fallen heroes because of their possible (perhaps probable) connection to steroid use. They are considered cheaters by some. I wonder if Jimi could have made his guitar sing “The Star Spangled Banner” if he didn’t have a little help? Is this a cultural double standard? I defer to Dylan and wonder if, “the times they are a changin’.”

    Our culture, now more than ever, craves heroes. Ordinary people want to be able to look up to larger than life saviors. We live in our mundane little world and go about our dutiful lives. All the while, we desperately search for the glorious ones. Our society seems to have a hero worship complex. The truth is, the glorious ones are just as susceptible to temptation as are ordinary folks. When our heroes fall from grace we either chose to remember the good times only or completely dismiss their contributions. It seems like there in no in-between perspective.

    I think this Challenge may encourage us to “see” heroes in context with the genre in which they were anointed. Norms, values and views change with each generation. In the spirit of looking past the obvious, we should also add the time period as a discussion point when we look at heroes. What is seen as an acceptable characteristic to be considered a hero now, may not be the same in twenty years. Forty years ago, society may have had more tolerance and used a different set of principles to define a hero.

  12. I personally don’t remember the summer of ’98, the Summer of love for Dueling Baseball Heroes. But Jeff Passan’s article described an age of innocence that I never experienced. Ever since I got into sports, my parents have explained the ramifications of all types of drugs, so I actually am in habit of questioning drug use any time I hear about a great sportsman. Like some of you, the use of drug crossed my mind when I saw Usain Bolt winning three golds at the Olympics. I was tremendously excited to see the run, especially the 100 meter, but I left a little cynical possibility on my mind. So when I saw on today’s AOL Sports that Carl Lewis suggested Bolt may have used steroids to jump from 10:03 to 9:69, I was not shocked. Rather, I wondered if Carl Lewis himself has used anything to get his record. I think most of my friends might feel the same way. With so many of the athletes being accused of or being convicted of illegal drug use, I don’t know if anyone is naïve enough to give unbridled love to sports-heroes, even if they are so likable as Michael Phelps.

    Still, Passan’s wistful longing for the days of innocence and simple hero-worshipping in our culture is understandable. According to my parents, who were not born in America, other countries still have that crazy, hero-worshipping for their sports heroes. They do not question if their athletes are on steroids. (I don’t know about former communist countries such as East Germany, who were notorious for state-sponsored, and very obvious, steroid use.) According to my parents, they don’t think about drug use of their sports heroes at all. I don’t know if they just choose to ignore such possibility (just because no one in their country has been caught) or if their athletes truly don’t use illegal drugs (it’s hard to get drugs there??). But it seems other countries still live in the days such as Summer of 98 that Passan describes. That we no longer can is truly sad.

    I think humans have a universal need for heroes, someone who can achieve to what we aspire. They make our dreams seem achievable and real. For a while, we can imagine how they must have felt running 9:69 or winning 8 golds, and we feel euphorically happy. So when their fraud and hypocrisy are exposed we feel their shame and their heartache. The way I see it, all heroes, sports heroes, political leaders, scholars, etc, have faults. That is human reality. We can still admire their good qualities, and accept their faults. Sometimes, the heroes with faults overcome their faults and we can learn from that process. It’s true that we can never have back what we once held so sacred, but we can have more understanding of our fellow human-heroes.

  13. I agree with most of the other people who commented on this article about it being sad, but interesting at the same time. No one in life wants to be let down and everyone wants to think it will work out in the end. The reality is, nothing in life is ever fair or perfect.

    This article talks about heroes and how we think they are all perfect and everyone wants to be like them. But, they really are just human. No one in life is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. We humans think that just because we look up to someone that they will never let us down. I think this article really teaches us that in everyone has flaws .

    It reminds me of when I found out Santa Clause wasnt real. I never thought of Christmas the same and I kept telling myself it wasn’t true just so I would feel better. Thats how people reacted to the McGwire/Sosa steroid issue. It was so fun to think that they were so great at baseball and they were such great heroes. When everyone found out they werent and they cheated with the help of steroids, as much as we didnt want to believe, it we had too.

    Humans these days need to understand that every good thing in life isnt always trues and fairytales are make believe. There can be heroes in our world today but just remember everything you hear about them isnt always true and people make mistakes.

  14. It is obvious from the beginning of this article that the ‘heroes’ are athletes. I personally don’t believe that breaking a record in sports should define you as a hero. True, being an athlete takes a massive amount of dedication and skill, but so do most things that have any sort of meaning in this world. And what battle are they fighting? However, I was never too interested in sports and probably don’t understand how big of a deal this was.

    There was never something as uniquely American as “hitting a home run”, which probably added to the heroism factor of baseball players. Since baseball was such a big part of American culture, masters of the sport would obviously be praised. There is a need for an icon in any society, so much so, that their flaws are easily disregarded or justified. When heroes let us down their faults are reminders that no one is perfect, but their legacy is what lives on.

    Bob Marley, one of the greatest idealists ever known, was a weed-head. Of course this truth is joked about, but when someone hears the name Bob Marley that isn’t the first thing that they think of. They think about his music.

    This might influence discussions about how heroes aren’t as invincible as they appear. Yes, they may put on a show of complete excellence, but there is a story to everyone, as well as a background. Every hero doesn’t always come from another planet or a mutated spider. Heroes are completely human.

  15. Student #8 (response to Mr. Long)

    As for your question Mr. Long, I believe that all cultures experience the degrading of a hero. Maybe not to the extent of the United States, a country founded on heroes. But especially in sports, every country has their own heroes and expectations for them.

    And I don’t know what our ‘heroes’ will be expected to do in the future, probably something impossible and then again won’t performance enhancing drugs be needed for them to accomplish this?

    It seems like a never ending cycle… It is a shame cultures have turned to this.

  16. I can share the Australian perspective on comparing the hero-worship culture. It is alive and well in the land down under. I watched a video today, actually, that said Australians tend to thrust their sports players above the team. It’s a fair comment and it doesn’t just happen in sports, but all public life. In fact, more famous than the putting of public figures onto pedestals is the subsequent knocking of them off. It’s known as the tall poppy syndrome if you care to learn more.

    I wanted to respond to Student 10 who I think had a great point at the end of his comment.

    “I think this Challenge may encourage us to “see” heroes in context with the genre in which they were anointed. Norms, values and views change with each generation. In the spirit of looking past the obvious, we should also add the time period as a discussion point when we look at heroes. What is seen as an acceptable characteristic to be considered a hero now, may not be the same in twenty years. Forty years ago, society may have had more tolerance and used a different set of principles to define a hero.”

    You’re absolutely correct. Think of the heroes of ancient Greece and how they fit into our heroic needs now. Heroes exist as a reflection of the culture/time they live in.

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