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South Africa's Oscar Pistorius. (Associated Press)

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius. (Associated Press)

Gazzolo: When looking for heroes, it’s time we look closer to our hearts

Last Modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 9:30 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

It has not been a good stretch for sports icons.

The first to fall was Joe Paterno.

The reputation of the legendary head football coach at Penn State came crumbling down amiss a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the foundation his program was built on.

By the time it was over, Paterno’s legacy was lost, his records were gone and history was retold.

Paterno left Penn State broken and beaten. He died soon after being fired.

It was not the ending we expected.

However, the world of sports does this. We build up athletes and coaches into something they are not. We do it without ever really knowing them.

When we finally do pull back the curtain, we find all too many are nothing more than human. Most are flawed.

So when news came that Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was being charged with murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend, not as many flinched as would have before.

Pistorius proclaims his innocence. South African police say differently.

Once again the sports world will collide with real life. It is getting to be a habit.

Pistorius made history at the London Olympics last summer when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete at any games.

That made the Paralympian a hero to the world, somebody to be admired for overcoming unbelievable odds and giving so much hope to so many others.

Now we find out Pistorius lived a troubled life outside the spotlight, one police say led to the ultimate tragedy.

It seems South Africa has its own O.J. Simpson case now, and the rest of the world has yet another reason to be cynical.

This follows in the footsteps of other spoiled dreams.

Lance Armstrong, who made history by winning seven Tour de France races after fighting cancer and did so much good, admitted he was a fraud and a liar.

He confesses, after being caught, that the rumors were true and he did take performance-enhancing drugs.

He was once a giant among athletes but facts brought him to his knees.

Even a feel-good story like Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s love for a sick girlfriend ended as a hoax. While Te’o appears to be one of the many duped by the story, we lost something when facts overcame fiction.

Mark Twain once said “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

While it doesn’t seem that was the case in any of these, it does prove that more often we don’t look hard enough at the facts before printing a good story.

We think we know these people because we watch them when they are at their best. We admire what they can do, marvel at their achievements.

Maybe, we are willing to make such quick heroes out of them to make our lives seem a little better.

Maybe, we actually believe these stories or are just searching for something good to take our mind off the bad.

Maybe, we should just enjoy their work and never let their stories reach our hearts.

For whatever the reason, sports means an awful lot to a lot of people. Maybe too much.

We are so quick to find heroes in the world that we never really look under the covers to see what they are actually made of.

I like to think we just want to see the good in all.

One thing is for sure: stories like Paterno’s, Armstrong’s and Pistorius’ are not about to end, no matter what the final verdicts. They are here to stay.

Perhaps the best we can do is look closer to home for our heroes and put our trust in those we know and can count on best.

It would be nice to think that our heroes often are sitting on just the other side of the dinner table.

Maybe then, we would not have to leave the house looking for our icons.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at

Posted By: Ella Vincent On: 2/18/2013

Title: Looking for heroes

I applaud your editorial, "looking for heroes"! Well said! Too bad it wasn't on the front page. We all need more reminders of this nature.

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