The papers and evening news broadcasts have been filled with stories of steroid use by major league baseball players. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is thankful for that the attention has been focused on something other than his “bong” use. Today’s kids have difficulty finding a hero out there. Even the television show “Heroes” is confusing. Half the characters meet the definition; the other half are from it. That wasn’t the case during our younger years.
We had plenty of sports heroes during my younger years. Sandy Koufax was one of the best pitchers of all times. Back then, I was a Yankees fan and pulled for Mickey, Yogi, and Whitey. Dizzy Dean was another hero whom I loved to hear announce games. In football, my number one player was Johnny Unitas. No one else could pass the ball or run a team like him. Seeing Peyton Manning in a Colts uniform is almost like seeing Unitas again. When the Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the first super bowl, they became instant heroes to football fans across the nation. Of course, no athlete was without fault, but most seemed to cherish the games they played and the fans who adored them.
I was an elementary student when Alan Shepard made that first flight into space. He took a fifteen minute ride in suborbital space. In that little time, the equivalent of one quarter of a football game, Shepard managed to achieve hero status. Millions of kids throughout the country wanted to become astronauts. John Glenn was the first American to orbit earth, and his fame continued from space to the halls of the U.S. Senate. So many of us young people watched as Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon in 1969. In the early years of the space program, every launch made news, and every person who flew those is mission was a hero. For years now, lift-offs into space go without recognition and only a small headline in the papers.
We were lucky in those days to have had political heroes. John F. Kennedy was the first for our generation. “Ask not what your country can do for you; rather ask what you can do for your country” became the mantra for individuals who joined the Peace Corps. They were inspired by Kennedy and his desire to help. His brother Bobby stood out among men during the ugliest days of the Vietnam War. Bobby wanted to lead the country in a new direction, just as his brother had wanted. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted a different direction too. His efforts were aimed at finding equality for the millions of black citizens in the U.S. For their efforts, all three men were gunned down by others who were frightened, ignorant, and jealous. They became not only heroes but martyrs also.
The times are bleak in our country. Americans face uncertain futures. Many wonder if the country’s greatest days lie behind it. Even in such difficult times, our children have the opportunity to discover new heroes. One might be President Barak Obama, who has given millions of Americans a new sense of hope. He calls us to service, and we want to go. His positive attitude is mixed with a dogged determination that can envision success in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Isn’t that what a hero does? Doesn’t he inspire us to go beyond ourselves to reach heights about which we only dreamed? Let’s hope that the rest of our elected officials do all within their powers to help President Obama succeed. Our country is counting on it, and our children need at least one national hero.