In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.
You might remember back in July when Cadel Evans won the Tour de France, Mia Freedman said on the Today show that sportspeople aren’t heroes, and a shitstorm ensued. You can read the original post here.
Mia Freedman’s copped it pretty hard in the media the last couple of weeks, ever since her comments about Cadel Evans and sports stars being held up as heroes.
It’s no secret that Freedman is my idol, so I will go to bat for her til the cows come home. She’s the reason I became a writer. She’s the reason I did work experience at Cosmo. I share a lot of her views. Whether it’s just a happy coincidence, or I’ve shaped my views around hers (I started reading Cosmo at 15, a very impressionable age, so it’s more than likely the latter), I don’t know.
I’ve written about my love for Freedman, followed closely by formerGirlfriend and Cleo editor, and current Sunday Life editor, Sarah Oakes, numerous times, and how the incestuous nature of the magazine world ensures a similar writing and editing style from those who work together. Take Freedman and Zoë Foster, for example. Or Oakes and Girl with a Satchel’s Erica Bartle and Musings of an Inappropriate Woman’s Rachel Hills.
Speaking of Sunday Life, Freedman’s column last weekend solidified why she’s a woman after my own heart.
She wrote about spending time with her family, and how planning big events are always a disaster and it’s the little, “mundane moments” that are memorable.
But back to the issue at hand: sportspeople as heroes.
I agree wholeheartedly that sportsmen and women aren’t heroes. (I threw up in my mouth a little bit when Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson stood for the national anthem after Evans won the Tour de France.) Yay, they can “swim fast”, “kick a ball with accuracy”, “run quickly” and “jump over high things”. But how does this make them heroes? It makes them superficial “heroes” or emblems of sporting events in which they did good, but not actual heroes. We can leave that title to soldiers, doctors, activists, social workers, firefighters and others who face death and social injustice to save lives and make the world a better place.
As Freedman reiterates:
“I roll my eyes every time another Australian of the Year is named and it’s a sportsperson. I cringe at the CONSTANT sycophancy and praise heaped on sportspeople and the way they are forever lauded as heroes… How does being highly physically capable make you a hero?”
I read somewhere that it is highly likely Evans will be named 2011’s Australian of the Year, so start warming up those eye sockets, Mia!
I brought this notion up with a coworker last week, who said doctors aren’t heroes just because they’re saving lives. But what about Doctors Without Borders, or doctors and nurses with the armed forces? “Well, that’s different,” he said. Why? Because they’re facing their own death whilst trying to prevent someone else’s? But sportspeople aren’t facing death (okay, sometimes they are), and their payoff is purely selfish.
Said coworker mentioned some AFL “hero” who, back in the ’70s (I think; don’t quote me on this), finished the grand final with a torn ligament and brought the premiership home. Some might call it heroism; others stupidity.
And I think the sportsperson=hero dichotomy is abhorrent, considering the extracurricular allegations levelled at some of them. Is Nick D’Arcy a hero for punching some guy and leaving him with irreparable facial damage? Are the Collingwood FC guys heroes for winning last year’s premiership, with some of them subsequently going on to allegedly sexually assault one or some groupies? How about the world class douchebag Brendan Fevola? Or Tiger Woods? O.J. Simpson? Hardly heroes.
Perhaps we should be looking to sportspeople like Glenn McGrath, who works tirelessly for his late wife’s breast cancer foundation. Or the Essendon FC, who work with schools to improve literacy. While not exactly heroes per se, at least they’re doing something other than hitting and kicking balls.
Freedman writes in a related piece:
“Sporting stars may have great physical skills but that’s all. They’re no smarter or better or nicer or more well intentioned than the average Australian. In fact, I would argue that generally (and of course this is a generalisation), they are less informed, less aware and less street smart than the average bear.
“This is because to become a great athlete, you have to spend many years from the time you are very young, refining your skills. That’s years swimming up and down a pool. Years running around a track. Years kicking a ball or hitting it with a bat.
“I’m happy for anyone who CHOOSES to spend years of their life dedicated to their sport. Go for it. But let’s not pretend it’s a selfless or noble pursuit.
“Professional athletes do it for many reasons. Sponsorship dollars. Personal satisfaction. A desire to represent their country or be the best at swimming or kicking or hitting or whatever it is they’re good at.”
Without humiliating anyone, I find the “less informed, less aware and less street smart” contention is particularly true of one of my physically gifted friends.
While he has a Masters and is one of the most book-smart people I know, he admitted to me that until he was in his late teens, he was completely sheltered by his parents. So much so that he didn’t buy his first CD until around this age. Up to that point, he listened to whatever his parents wanted to listen to, because it was pretty much school, practice, competitions, and the only musical exposure he got was in the car on the way to said school, practice, competitions.
Now the kind of sports he plays aren’t exactly your true blue AFL or cricket (in fact, they’re so obscure I won’t mention them here at the risk of giving him away!), so he’s in another boat altogether: his sports would be, and have been, ridiculed by both your Aussie bogan and your highbrow cultured Australian.
Now, from what I’ve read, Cadel Evans is involved in other noble pursuits, like charity. Unfortunately, I think Freedman’s point was sullied by using Evans to bring it up on national television. Perhaps if she were talking about Stephanie Rice or Ben Cousins her contention would have been more well received. But that’s the risk you run when you voice an opinion that’s not of the norm.
And that’s why I love her. Sure, she got crapped on by most of Australia for making a valid point. But she was able to return to voicing her opinion on Today the same time the following week, joking about going into witness protection, but getting a haircut instead. She was able to find the humour in the situation, and see where she might have been wrong.
For the record, I don’t think she was wrong.
Related: In Defence of Mia Freedman.
Everything They Touch Turns to Gold.
Mama Mia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood By Mia Freedman Review.
Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman Review.
Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Cadel Evans: Is He a Hero?
[MamaMia] Cadel: Here’s What I Learned.
[MamaMia] Is Being Australian Really So Much About Gold Medals?
[MamaMia] Stephanie Rice. Enough With the Hero Worship.
[MamaMia] When Family Time is a Nightmare.