One of the things Charles Barkley is most famous for is stating that athletes should not be looked at as role models. Frankly, I think that certain athletes can be great role models and deservedly can be heroes to some. While there are some bad guys in the world of sports, there are some great ones as well, ones that deserve adulation and do serve as good role models. Growing up, I definitely had sports heroes, and I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t still to this day.
Derek Jeter has been the focal point of the national sports media ever since he announced that 2014 would be his final season, and in the last couple of weeks it has been nearly unbearable how much coverage he has gotten. And while he was a very good player and was looked up to by many, there was someone else in Major League Baseball that was deserving of the hero treatment, someone who was a sports hero to me and thousands of other Chicago White Sox and general baseball fans. Paul Konerko, by all accounts, is a great man, along with being a great baseball player. While he did not start his career on the South Side of Chicago, he did spend nearly his whole career with the pale hose. He is easily one of the five best White Sox of all-time. 432 home runs with the Sox, nearly 1,400 RBI and one of the greatest moments in team history, hitting a grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series. He is not only a legend on the field, but off of it as well.
As previously mentioned, by all accounts Paul Konerko is a great person. He is honorable for his acts, his demeanor and his general personality. The man gave up more money to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks in order to stay with the White Sox. He has done a great deal of charity work around Chicago. He is a family man, who has done a wonderful job of keeping his family and his private life out of the media. A modest, faithful leader, Paul Konerko is a perfect example of a sports hero and a role model. He’s been the captain of the White Sox since 2006 for a reason. It’s hard to think about the White Sox no longer having #14 in lineup starting next season. He was the rare player that could unite White Sox fans and Cubs fans, both groups saying that he was a true Chicago legend and an all-around great person. Paul Konerko was not your stereotypical jock with a bad attitude and a fast and loose lifestyle. Paul Konerko was a great baseball player, is a great person and is deservedly a hero.
We have sports heroes for different reasons too. For example, and I know I have stated this before, Brett Favre was my hero growing up. He was larger than life to me. Brett Favre is the reason I love football today. He was wild, he was exciting, he was awe-inspiring and simply put, he was just amazing to watch. He would throw a ball that would make you curse his name, only for it to end up being a perfect pass through a tiny window that would score a touchdown and have you praising him. He threw interceptions, plenty of them (the most of any quarterback ever, actually) but he threw the most touchdowns ever too (you don’t have the record just yet, Peyton). He was a wild man on the field and that’s why I, like so many others, became endeared to him. He always had fun on the field, and you could see it on every play. I loved that, I loved Brett Favre. He was my hero for years.
Unfortunately, Brett had his own demons. He was addicted to painkillers and needed to go to rehab early in his career. His ugly split with the Packers has been well-documented and really split apart fans of his and fans of the Packers. I was mad at him for leaving (especially when he went to Minnesota), and while I would never give up on my Packers, I was bitter with them and for a good part of his first season as the starter, I was irrationally mad at Aaron Rodgers (then I came around and now I praise Cheesus for three hours every fall Sunday). Brett was gone though, and his tumultuous stint in New York was mired in controversy. I was mad at him, but he was still Brett Favre, and hearing about all that went on after he left Green Bay crushed me. Brett Favre made mistakes. His personal life was not immaculate while he was in the league, not by a long shot. But when you consider what good he has done away from the game, such as creating a foundation and working with various breast cancer charities (his wife is a survivor), and mix that in with the love of the football he exhibited in every game he played, I have no regrets looking up to him when I was growing up. I love football today because of Brett Favre. There was a reason that he was and is to this day one of my biggest sports heroes.
People make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. This includes athletes and normal people like you and I alike. Should we look up to firefighters and other everyday, local heroes? Yes, of course we should. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore that some athletes are also deserving of admiration. Whether it’s for their incredible on-field play or their work and life off the field, there are stars out there who are deserving of the adulation they receive. To many young people out there, their favorite athletes are their version of superheroes; at least, that’s what Paul Konerko and Brett Favre were and still are to me.