Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols

By Stanley H. Teitelbaum | Go to book overview

1. The Need for Heroes

He understood that we would give him anything—if he
would always be the hero we required.

Richard Ben Cramer, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life

Sports stars become heroes when they are admired for their athletic accomplishments. We yearn to feel connected to them, want to be like them, and enhance our self-esteem by imagining an association with them and basking in the glow of their success. When our heroes perform well, we feel like winners. When they falter, on or off the playing field, we distance ourselves from them. We are disappointed, resentful, and angry, not wanting to associate with losers. The greater our investment in a hero’s accomplishments and the more we define ourselves through his achievements, the more we resent it when he lets us down.

Our need for heroes stems from early childhood. Our first heroes are our parents, whom we view as all-knowing and all-powerful as they protect us and shepherd us through early life. Gradually, especially after we recognize that even our parents are flawed, they are replaced by outside heroes, often from the world of sports. Children embrace sports heroes with a passion. This attachment provides a sense of specialness and an optimism that we can grow up and also be successful. As writer Peggy Noonan poignantly observes, “The young are moved by greatness. They are inspired by it. Children need heroes. They need them to lift life, to support a future you can be hungry for. They need them because heroes, just by being, communicate the romantic and yet realistic idea that you can turn your life into something great.”1

It is normal for children to sometimes live through their heroes and draw sustenance from the imagined connection. When I was twelve I faced an emergency appendectomy. As I was wheeled into the operating room, feeling overwhelmed and frightened, I thought about my baseball hero, Pete Reiser. I idolized the way he hit (I copied his batting stance), his base-stealing skills, and the way he made outstand

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Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1. the Need for Heroes 1
  • 2. the Psyche of the Athlete 17
  • 3. Baseball Gambling Scandals 33
  • 4. Football Gambling Scandals 58
  • 5. Basketball Gambling Scandals 69
  • 6. Self-Destructive Athletes 101
  • 7. Athletes and Violence toward Women 138
  • 8. Athletes and Murder 178
  • 9. Violence between Athletes 197
  • 10. Athletes’ Mental Health Problems 220
  • Epilogue 240
  • Notes 249
  • Index 265
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