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LeBron got you down? Heyward and Strasburg are not your saviors

Jul 9, 2010, 1:14 PM EDT

Young athletes have enough going on without having to deal with your hero worship.

Buster Olney had this to say in his column this morning:

The LeBron James Look-At-Me Tour underscored why watching young players like Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg has been so much fun this year: As great as their promise is, they do not carry themselves as if they’re bigger and more important than those around them, and the bet here is that this isn’t going to change.

Strasburg pitches again tonight, and I’m guessing you won’t see him clap a cloud of resin over his head, his arms outstretched toward the heavens, before he throws his first pitch.

I don’t believe people still say stuff like this.  You saw what Jason Heyward said about James last night.  He thought that spectacle was pretty neat.  But even if that was just a random tweet we shouldn’t take seriously (which it probably was), if we’ve learned anything over the past couple of decades of sports scandal and drama, it’s that projecting purity and goodness on young athletes is foolhardy, even if it is understandable.

As is the case with so many things, Bill James said it best, this time in in The New Bill
James Historical Baseball Abstract
nearly ten years ago:

When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right
away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is
as well as a supreme talent. Never pay any attention to those articles
or those descriptions. Albert Pujols is going through this now . . .
people who didn’t know Albert Pujols from Jack the Ripper six months ago
and have never talked to him more than six feet from his locker are
writing very sincerely about what an exceptional young man he is . . .
Sportswriters, despite their cynicism or because of it, desperately want
to believe in athletes as heroes, and will project their hopes onto
anyone who offers a blank slate. The problem with this is that, when the
player turns out to be human and fallible, people feel betrayed. It is a
disservice to athletes to try to make them more than they really are.

Albert Pujols may prove the exception to the rule, actually, but the point remains a good one: don’t assume anything other than humanity — both good and bad — on the part of young athletes, and don’t expect anything other than the excellent athletic performances they provide.  To do so asks too much and leads, inevitably, to disappointment.

Remember: people said all kinds of things about LeBron James until very, very recently. Who knows what they’ll say about Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg seven years from now?

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    Let’s not forget Tiger Woods either…before Thanksgiving 2009, he was the world’s most admired athlete…now he may just be the most reviled.

  2. Mr. Heyward - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    Craig, you should be Tiger Woods’ publicist.

  3. Mr. Heyward - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    ah, you beat me to the punch by 2 mins re Woods! very true nonetheless

  4. Simon DelMonte - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    Is it sad or just realistic that I never, for one moment, bought into the “LeBron is so wonderful, so mature” stuff? I can and will appreciate these fine folks as athletes. I won’t see them as heroes of any sort just because they are great athletes. Good people, maybe. Role models? Once in a while. Heroes? For slamming the ball? Nope.

  5. Utley's hair - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:33 PM

    The foreshadowing for this was when he walked off the court last season without shaking hands after the Cavs were bounced by the Magic.

  6. adam - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    This is why Charles Barkley was/is such a breath of fresh air. Yes he angered people when he said it, but “I’m not a role model” was probably the best thing people could hear.

  7. Simon DelMonte - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    I think he would have handled this very differently. Then again, as great as he was, he knew he wasn’t Michael Jordan.

  8. mission - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    Heyward is *my* hero!

  9. JBerardi - Jul 9, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    “Too many people think an athlete’s life can be an open book. You’re supposed to be an example. Why do I have to be an example for your kid? You be an example for your own kid.”

    -Bob Gibson

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