This morning the world woke with Valentine’s Day love on their mind. It was a day meant for giving, for love, and certainly not for horror. But horror is what we all woke to. Oscar Pistorius, the awe-inspiring double amputee Olympic gold medalist, had murdered his girlfriend on Valentines Day.
Yes, the Oscar Pistorius that gave us this heart-warming, inspirational photo.
In fact, Pistorius himself was an inspiration. He caught the Olympic media by storm and made himself an international icon. In our minds, he stood for something bigger than track and field. He stood for something bigger than sports. He stood for the acceptance of the handicapped.
That is was irks me the most about Pistorius’ alleged actions. He stood for something that was not just bigger than himself and bigger than what he did for a living; he did something that could have lived on forever. We talk about the legacy of each and every Olympic Games, so with Pistorius’ successes in London in 2012, acceptance for the handicapped could have been one that Sebastian Coe and the planning committee never could have planned for. It was just him, just Pistorius, all alone leading this international charge.
It plays into one of our inefficiencies as human beings: we always have to look up to somebody. Especially in the United States where we did not know much about Oscar Pistorius, we caught on quickly. Additionally, we may be the worst offenders in putting athletes on a pedestal.
That is why when all of the stories came out today, about Pistorius whining about a competitor winning in the Special Olympics because his blades were too long or Pistorius threatening to break a reporter’s legs, I was not particularly surprised. We do this every single day. We always give successful athletes the benefit of the doubt, even when they have not earned it.
Pistorius never actually earned the benefit of the doubt. Because he is a double amputee, in the media’s eyes, he was always on the pedestal. He could do no wrong. Because he is a double amputee, we skimmed over those unfavorable stories. It is nobody’s fault but our own because we refuse to learn from the past.
To learn from the past, we do not even have to look beyond Nike’s portfolio of athletes. Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Joe Paterno. Now, Oscar Pistorius. Sure, it comes with the territory of being the premiere brand in athletic apparel: you have to sign the premiere athletes. However, with premiere athletes – athletes that we put on the pedestal – comes the biggest falls from grace. Pistorius’, though more egregious than the rest, is yet another example.
Personally, I wonder when will we ever learn? When will we stop viewing athletes as god-like figures?
Individually, I think some people have the fortitude to do so. I, for one, stopped viewing athletes as gods when I found out that my childhood heroes had been busted for steroids. Although I had enjoyed sports before, the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa really made me love sports. When I learned that it was all a sham, all a steroid ridden sham, I’ve been quite cynical about sports ever since.
But on the surface, Pistorius seemed different. His relationship even seemed different (after ignoring the domestic dispute complaints). Pistorius is a double amputee poised to changed the world’s view of handicapped athletes and people. His girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was a model that was a major advocate for women’s rights in South Africa. In American ideals, they represented the perfect power couple. Both were at the top of their respective fields, both stood for something vastly larger than their respective fields.
Now Steenkamp has been brutally murdered and Pistorius seems to be headed to time behind bars. Though there is no certainty with the corrupt judicial system of South Africa, if the charges are true, Pistorius should be destined to a life behind bars.
And we, as fans and consumers of sport, are left to wonder. We wonder are athletes really the best role models? No matter how perfect things seem, are they really perfect? Pistorius seemed to be perfect, and his fall from the top hit a lower bottom than we have ever seen before. It is to the point that it seems like we expect to get let down by the athletes we idolize. In some kind of cynical way, we may even enjoy it a bit too.
Some will only look at the black and white issue of Pistorius’ innocence or guilt. Some will look at what this situation represents in the bigger picture. I think we all need to take this as a lesson, as I have said before, and learn from it. We need to stop looking at athletes in a light that they cannot do any wrong. We need to think for ourselves. We need to always strive to be better.
Update: As the story trickles out, the latest is saying the Pistorius shot his girlfriend 4-5 times and possibly through the bathroom door. The outlook continues to look more and more grim for Pistorius.