The Complication of Fallen Heroes

(Photo: Oscar Pistorius on Twitter)
(Photo: Oscar Pistorius on Twitter)

As the defense readies to begin stating their case to uphold Oscar Pistorius’ claim of not guilty in the trial of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, society is faced with an uncomfortable truth. To some, the outcome of the case doesn’t matter.

The trial focuses on the question of why, not who. We know it was Pistorius who shot Steenkamp, his girlfriend, on Valentines Day in 2013. That’s not a question. Pistorius isn’t disputing that, saying he mistook her for an intruder. The prosecution believes the murder was premeditated, calculated and cold-blooded. Regardless, he did it, he murdered another human, an uncomfortable thought in its own right because there’s no hope for exoneration.

Over the last 13-plus months, the details that have been made public have not painted any nicer of a picture for Pistorius. A gun-enthusiast with a short temper. A sort of proactive defensiveness with an alleged pension to mistreat women. And maybe simply not the nice person the world wanted him to be when he burst on the international scene as South Africa’s  Blade Runner running on two prosthetic legs at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

In other words, maybe Pistorius isn’t and never was a hero.

Or is he?

It’s a complicated question. Really, a hero is anything anybody wants a hero to be. Some may see murder of any degree — forethought or not — as grounds to strip the almighty hero tag. Some may not see athletes as heroes at all. But some may separate athlete Oscar Pistorius from potentially cold-blooded murder Oscar Pistorius, leaving them in a very grey and uncomfortable area.

In a way, the conundrum of the totality of Pistorius’ place as a hero is similar to Lance Armstrong. Armstrong, upon winning seven straight Tour de France titles after a public battle with testicular cancer, cemented himself as a source of inspiration for millions facing the disease. Whether it was seeing Armstrong donning the yellow jersey or simply seeing a stranger wearing the yellow ‘Livestrong’ wristband now synonymous with Armstrong’s battle, he represented a sense of hope. A living, breathing picture that things can — and will — get better.

At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the PEDs, the lies and the malice. Years and years of PEDs. And lies. Armstrong’s lies have ruined careers and reputations. He attacked those who opposed him and made those who stood by him into victims of his alternative reality. The lies hurt even more knowing how much he meant to people, knowing that he is a hero.

Of course, there is the caveat that Armstrong never directly took another person’s life. He made peoples’ lives miserable but didn’t take them. If he did, though, would the impact on lives be lost? For those who battled cancer themselves or those who know someone who battled cancer and looked at Armstrong as their inspiration to live, their picture that cancer is not a death sentence, their motivation to keep fighting even if just for one more day, the lies can never take away from the fact that Armstrong may have quite literally saved their lives.

Pistorius has had a comparable impact on many lives. He has shown that no dream is too big, regardless of what may be handicapping it. Even the biggest stage in sports is an attainable goal. Even to everyday life, Pistorius has been the living example that no disability makes a person any less of a person or any less normal. Nobody can take away the confidence and self-worth people have gained through his ability to compete.

It’s not a justification for his actions. Regardless of motive or mistake, their is no justification, no forgiving nor forgetting. He deserves whatever punishment may come his way. But like Armstrong, some may separate Pistorius’ fall from grace from the impact he had on their lives. The way he inspired people to continue fighting their life-long fight, to turn their biggest weakness into their biggest strength, is nothing short of heroic.

As uncomfortable as it may seem, Pistorius may still be their hero to some people. Sometimes there’s nothing that will take that away.

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