In July of 2012, when the Penn State scandal covered the entirety of a news broadcast and overshadowed the baseball scene of mid-summer, Rick Reilly produced a column against the man known affectionately as “JoePa.”
Reilly opens his column by stating a professor asked him if he was going to participate in “hagiography”, which is then clarified as the “study of saints.” Nobody knew what was going on behind the scenes at the time and adored the heroic Paterno, thus putting him in a position of sainthood simply for giving us hope. We – fans of the game – gave him the power that eventually led to his negligence and the destruction of the Penn State program. Aren’t we just fools?
Recently, the world became steadfast in their efforts to attack a small town in Ohio named Steubenville, which happens to be directly across the river from where I was raised. Some of Steubenville’s football players had committed a crime, and that is indisputable. However, the reasoning behind this crime could easily be disputed, and while there is no reason any of them should have leeway in their sentencing, the argument still remains. These children, perceived heroes in their small town, were put in the position that Joe Paterno, Ray Lewis, and many others have been placed in – they were made into saints.
As much as we want to defend ourselves against this, and believe we have no stance in this measure, everybody who has ever participated in fanhood has participated in hagiography at some point. Just think about it, everybody brings up the 2000 Ray Lewis murder case, but nobody knows if he actually did anything, and he appeared to get off free. This brings up the thought of us possibly giving Ray the ability to do whatever he wanted, simply because we idolized him to an extreme. We put him in a position to fail, and as thus we must take the blame.
This argument is not to say that these people should be absolved of guilt, but that we as fans accept our position in this grand experimentation of the human experience. I challenge you to think about your favorite athlete, or musician, or anybody whom you believe to be one of the best in their particular art form. Now take a look at them in the sense of a criminal, somebody who has performed such a disastrous deed that should not be forgiven. It’s the case of Ben Roethlisberger and his rape case, where it is impossible to truly prove the crime, but also impossible to disprove it. As such, the fans of this particular athlete decide to believe the person who they watch and cheer for rather than be emotionally and mentally scarred.
Athletes are known to believe in themselves as immortal, just as saints are. In these cases, maybe they truly are immortal in many different ways. For the young athletes from Steubenville, they will always be immortalized as the image of the small community stars whose heads simply got too big. They were always placed in a position to fail, however. The stars of the football team, they were offered the free path to happiness as people fawned over their every move. The fans cheered them on in whatever they did, and they had friends in the system to help them get away with anything. Fans of the team put them on the pedestal and hesitated to take them off of it, giving them full power over the city.
Now the fans are irate, believing they are better than these poor children whom committed a violent crime, made a mistake, because they were put in the position to make it. The immortality angle of a person’s life stems from the top. If you do not introduce these athletes to the notion of being fully responsible for all actions, they will continue through their lives in total disbelief that anything they do could be considered by any means wrong.
It’s time for fans to take the first step in rehabilitation and accept the faults of their favorite performers to protect these performers from reaching too high. They believe they are saints, and who are we to deny them that, if we were the first ones to place them there? Nobody stepped in when there was nothing known to have happened. The world has chosen to be ignorant to the devastating truths of the dangers of hagiography. Due to this, we now have to re-evaluate our stances on the true value of a performer in our society.
To do this, let’s try starting at the bottom and working our way up. The first step in rehabilitation of these methods is for individual people to cease it. I was and still am one of the many people to believe Joe Paterno was a hero to the nation. I was blinded, and I admit this. Now I challenge you to do the same. Search for the faults of your heroes, and if you find none do not simply accept that as the endgame. Though my favorite athlete has never been arrested, I do believe there may have been times he simply was not caught committing a crime.
While I would like to believe all athletes, and performers in general, whom we idolize are absolved of all guilt and held to a higher standard than us, it simply is not true. The fans have to take the leap and deliver a blow to their favorite performers in a hope to finally create a truly open environment where even the publicly incredible athletes are placed in a position of skepticism while cheered for their successes.
The athletes and other performers have done something amazing, but that is only on the court, or field, or ice. When these athletes leave their homes as the heroic superstars of today, it is time to take the halos away as they are once again just a regular person, like you or me. It is time for the fans to face it and accept that these players are no better than anybody else once they leave their place of glory. It’s up to the fans to start the wheels and make a change. It is all up to the fans to hold the players accountable at all times, and stop hagiography in all ways.
The first step to truly stopping this is to take the halo away. They aren’t saints, they’re simply human.