Keep Your Heroes at Arm’s Length

By Jason Menard

The other day my wife was reading some magazine, which contained a quiz covering a wide variety of topics – including sports. And the question that stumped me the most? When she asked me which professional athlete I’d most like to have lunch with.

After a couple of days reflection, I may have to admit I lied.

The thing is, you ask most guys this question and the first names that come into their mind are Gabriella Sabatini, Maria Sharapova, or Anna Kournikova and, of course, trying to figure out whether Alyssa Milano’s recent baseball blog would qualify her for the event – and that invitation’s not being extended for their athletic abilities. And the smart man thinks before speaking and moves on past these passing fancies.

Then we give the answer we think we should. The quartet of athletes I chose are all worth of precognition: hockey heroes like Wayne Gretzky and the late Maurice Richard, and brave sporting pioneers like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali.

In the end, however, there are no athletes that’d like to spend any time with. After all, it’s hard for anyone to live up to the expectation that we’ve placed upon them.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting one of my hockey heroes, Guy Lafleur, earlier this year. It was at a charity event and a group of us, who were all French-speakers, engaged Guy in a long conversation. We did the embarrassing groupie things like having shirts signed and one of us – and I reserve my right to not comment on the grounds that it may incriminate me – even had The Flower record his outgoing answering cell phone machine message. Throughout the night he kept returning to talk – and we all walked away feeling the man measured up to the myth.

Unfortunately, that’s appears to be the exception to the rule.

Throughout my career writing for various on-line and print vehicles, I’ve had the opportunity – note the fact that I didn’t say pleasure – of meeting several professional and amateur athletes.

And all too often they’re boorish, rude, and obnoxious. Some appear to not value the importance of signing an autograph for a young child, or understand what their interaction with a fan can mean to that person.

However, athletes are really just regular people, with extraordinary jobs and paycheques. And, as regular people they are subject to the same foibles and insecurities as all the rest of us. Of course, as regular people with irregular bank accounts and unwavering customer affection, they can often find themselves in trouble. After all, for years they’ve been told they’re special and the rules don’t apply to them, so is it any surprise that the mix of loyalty, intoxication – both physical and spiritual, and an all-too-ready-to-please fan base ready to cover up any follies?

I’ve been out on the town with famous NHLers after a charity event – and saw some of the most pronounced displays of misogyny and lack of consideration for others; I’ve talked with an NHL legend who ended up going on a 10-minutes tirade about foreigners; and I’ve seen grown adults be as disrespectful and immature as six-year-old boys.

Again, I’m using awfully broad strokes with an awfully broad bust. Not all athletes in all sports are like this, but there’s no hard and fast way to know what lurks beneath that PR’d and polished demeanour.

So my real answer to the question of which athlete would I like to spend time with? None thanks.

I prefer a little romance and mystery in my life. Just as I never want to find out a how a magician perform a trick, so too do I not want to delve into an athlete’s true self. I’m much happier thinking of them as bigger than life. I’m far more content admiring their sills and abilities on their field of play.

And those activities are best done from afar.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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