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I need a hero

Joey Falco | Monday, March 21, 2005

This past week, I couldn’t help but think back to that classic “Liar, Liar” scene in which a desperate Jim Carrey is dragged out of a courtroom screaming, “But I’m Jose Canseco! I’m Jose Canseco!” Yes, even though recent events might lead one to believe otherwise, there actually was a time when emulating Jose Canseco was the cool thing to do. After all, at least in some respects, he was a hero.

Not only did he and fellow “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire lead the Oakland Athletics to three consecutive World Series appearances as a notorious tag team of home run hitters, but posters featuring the two hulks posing with their biceps flexed also dotted the bedroom walls of Little Leaguers all across America, myself included. Without fail, throughout most of the early ’90s, if my eyes were not glued to the television screen watching the comparatively lackluster New York Yankees and my own personal uber-hero, Don Mattingly, you could bet that I was running around my living room swinging a yellow plastic wiffle ball bat in the hopes of hitting an unlucky household object with the force of a Bash Brother grand slam. Oh, those were the days.

Granted, it was a lot easier to find a hero in the sports world back when we were growing up. The multi-million dollar advertising deals that tend to go to the heads of today’s top athletes really only emerged on the scene after the Michael Jordan era, so the holier-than-thou attitudes of a Barry Bonds or a Kobe Bryant were typically never an issue. Professional athletes were blessed with unthinkable God-given talents, and they never felt the need to appear on ESPN telling us exactly how much better than us they really were, and we loved and respected them for that. Life was good.

Speaking of everyone’s favorite Los Angeles Laker, the typical American sports fan also never had to worry about their heroes showing up on television defending themselves against charges of rape (Bryant), assault (Ron Artest), murder (O.J. Simpson, Jayson Williams), steroid use (Canseco, McGwire, Sammy Sosa, et. al.) or drug use (Ricky Williams, the entire NBA). Rape, murder and drugs, after all, only existed in Al Pacino movies. I’m pretty sure the only guy I knew growing up who used performance-enhancing steroids was the gargantuan Russian boxer in “Rocky IV.”

Professional sports were simply an arena for the best Little League athletes who became the best high school athletes who later were the best college athletes to have the honor of playing the games they loved more than anything in front of millions of hot dog-eating fans. It was a natural progression to greatness that every little boy wanted to take, and steroids, felonies and ego trips simply were not a part of the picture. That was, of course, until something went terribly wrong, and those heroes on our posters, trading cards and cereal boxes ended up in our courtrooms, prison cells and congressional hearings.

Switching gears for a second, I should also note that professional athletes were not the only heroes and role models who provided the driving force behind much of the child development of America. There were the billionaire inventors turned businessmen – men like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – who certainly inspired many of my more financially-savvy peers with imaginings of inconceivable wealth and fame.

There were the beautiful and talented heroes of Hollywood – stars like the gorgeous Julia Roberts and the incomparably-cool Sean Connery – who motivated would-be actors and actresses to stick with their pipe dreams of cinematic success.

There were the legendary and inspirational political heroes of history – great leaders like Presients George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt – who helped direct the futures of budding politicians. Generally speaking, no matter whom you were and what you wanted to do with your life, there was always a hero out there to help drive you to turn your dreams into realities.

Cue Canseco and his 304-page piece of literary filth, “Juiced,” and the steroid scandal in Major League Baseball found itself reignited. Cue Enron and WorldCom and the business world became a bastion of greed, scandal and corruption. Cue Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson and Robert Blake, who forced Hollywood to begin to look more like a hedonistic sin bin than the euphoric Shangri-La profiled in “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Cue President Bill Clinton’s oral office and President George W. Bush’s neoconservative imperialism, and even the presidency lost its luster as the head of state, commander in chief and hero of heroes for the free world.

As a result, we have reached a crossroads in American society in which our youth are now faced with a dangerous hero dilemma. They can either set their sights on a future as a thug (50 Cent), a an alleged rapist (Bryant), a loose star (Lindsay Lohan), a thief (Kenneth Lay) or a Republican (see all), or they can set off on their difficult journeys into the gloomy caves of adulthood without heroes by their sides to light the way to success. Call me pessimistic, but I just don’t think they’re going to make it.

Not without their heroes. Not without their Jose Cansecos.

Joey Falco is a sophomore American Studies major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be reached at jfalco@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.