Holding Out for Heroes

Once upon a time, I considered myself a pretty avid sports enthusiast. I went to the games. I knew the stats. I watched my Chicago sports heroes with fervor and devotion. Yet over the course of having kids, I somehow lost interest. At first, I believed it was due to a busy life with three young sons and a schedule that kept me dashing around the four corners of the city. But I knew that was really just an excuse.

I grew up in an era of Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Ryne Sandberg, and Harold Baines. The media painted these Chicago legends as the quintessential sportsmen, family men, and philanthropists. Whatever flaws they possessed were thankfully glossed over by the media, and for many years, they remained the darlings of Chicago sports. Having heroes to root for each week made the experience so much more exciting and engaging.

Enter the next generation. I do not have the same crop of heroes to offer up to my own sons. Back when I watched, nobody had a rap sheet. Nobody shot anyone in a bar. Nobody was selling drugs to undercover cops. What kind of “heroes” did I want to expose my kids to?

With media outlets clawing at each other to be the first to reveal the latest scandal or unsavory tidbit on professional athletes, there is little that goes undisclosed. Unfortunately, most of the blame lands squarely on the shoulders of these world-class athletes who do little to earn our respect outside of the playing field. Drugs. Prostitution. Illegal gambling. Murder. It leaves a former sports nut to wonder, “Where have all the good guys gone?”

I begrudgingly watched Monday night’s match-up of the New Orleans’ Saints versus the Atlanta Falcons this week. My husband had several players in his “Fantasy League” starting that night. I will never quite understand Fantasy Football, and it stresses me out when every little play annoys my husband. I mean, how can someone get that upset over a stupid field goal? I’m going against that kicker! My husband explained, exasperated.

It was late in the 4th quarter when Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees threw a short pass into the end zone that would break a 27 year-old record of passing yards in a single season held by Dan Marino. I didn’t feel that excited either way, given I wasn’t sure whether or not Drew Brees had partaken in violent dog fights at his home recently.

Yet when I watched the locker room speech that Brees gave after the game, I perked up. He talked about team. He talked about how each of his teammates should feel proud of the record they had actually broken together. He thanked the coaches. He even thanked the ball guy. It was one of the classiest speeches I’ve heard from an athlete in years.

It got me interested. I “googled” Brees, and found his stats quite impressive. He was an Academic All-American. He married his college sweetheart. He has been heavily involved in rebuilding New Orleans and participates in several anti-bullying campaigns. His nickname in his hometown is “Brees-us.”

I don’t know if this guy will fall like the rest, but for right now, I will be cheering for the Saints this post-season. I think it is fitting that a guy who helped re-build a city and a football team may also re-build my belief that there can still be real sports heroes.

I will watch the games with my sons next week, and when they ask who we are cheering for, I will finally tell them without hesitation. Number 9. We like Number 9.

Thank you, Drew. I needed that.

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