Last week, an ex-football player named Steve McNair was shot and killed by his girlfriend, who then turned the gun on herself. A sad story, certainly, especially for the wife and four children McNair had waiting at home. Since I am not really an NFL fan, I knew (and cared) little more about McNair than he was a football player and he was dead. Having the husband I do, however, means I am inundated with Sunday morning sports news programs, and my favorite is "ESPN's The Sports Reporters," where three sports reporters and a moderator sit around discussing some subject or another - as one who enjoys journalism more than sports, I find it the most tolerable and intelligent of the Sunday morning lineup. On this morning's program, one of the reporters said something that truly resonated with me, and I had to write about it.
Today's subject was, of course, McNair's death, the circumstances surrounding his death, and whether it is acceptable to speak ill of the dead, or in this case, talk about the facts. Apparently, McNair was a decent football player. He won a lot of games, especially in college. He played when he was hurt. He did a lot of charity work in Nashville. He had a lot of fans, people who are calling him a fallen hero. In response to this, one of the reporters, Mike Lupica of the New York Post questioned where we, as a society, have decided to set the bar for heroes. McNair was a football player. That was his job. His job was to play football, to play it well, to try to win. So, Mr. Lupica's question was, (and I am paraphrasing) does doing your job well and maybe, if you have the time and resources, helping some other people, make you a hero? Is that where we have decided to set the bar in this day and age?
My husband is an engineer. He does it well. He goes to work everyday, sometimes even when he is sick, and designs machines, making sure they are safe to operate. He makes considerably less money than Steve McNair. He's let members of my family live here, he's helped neighbors when they've needed help, he's donated occasional money and time to various charity organizations, as a decent citizen should. And somehow, even with all these amazing works, he has managed to NOT cheat on his wife and kids. Is he a hero? Or is he just a semi-decent guy living his life?
The dictionary describes a hero as "a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities." I think a hero is a person who goes beyond the call of duty to try to make the world a better place; perhaps someone who is willing to put their lives on the line to do what he or she thinks is the right thing. It's too bad Steve McNair is dead, sure. I've very sorry for his family, his friends, and his fans. But he was no more a hero than my husband, me, or anyone else who lived their lives as a decent citizen. The meaning of the word "hero" is being diminished by such indiscriminate use. Let's save the word "hero" for someone who truly deserves it.