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Once upon a time, there used to be a sports hero for everyone, no matter what sport you followed. A figure you could look up to and count on, someone you could always rely on with the game on the line. Even in the face of defeat, your hero stands tall, because in your eyes, he can do no wrong. What happens when that invincibility is taken away? Are you left with an image of glory or an image of wrong?

mariano_rivera.jpgToday’s sports world doesn’t offer up many sports heroes. Sure, there is an abundance of superstars, but how many of them are the “model” superstar? What makes a player a sports hero? Is it determined by a game winning hit in the World Series?, a game winning basket to clinch a playoff series?, a game turning drive that caps a comeback and sends your team to the super bowl? As a fan, do we hold off the field accusations and behavior against our heroes thus deflating some of our fondest memories? That depends on who you ask and the circumstances surrounding the player.

Former Yankee Jim Leyritz was charged Friday with DUI and manslaughter after killing a 30-year old women. He will forever be known for his historic game tying homerun in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series off of Atlanta Braves closer Mark Wohlers. The Yankees won that game and won the series. That homerun is looked at as the start of the last Yankees dynasty. Does this reckless act tarnish his place in Yankee history? Statistically, no. Theoretically….ask Roger Clemens how public opinion can alter one’s accomplishments. Just two weeks ago, Clemens was arguably the greatest pitcher of all-time. Now, after allegations and accusations point at Clemens using performance enhancing drugs, his place as one of baseball’s all-time elite is uncertain.

Take a look around at some of sports’ biggest names and decide for yourself if they garner the right to be called a sports hero:


  • Derek Jeter: (A personal favorite of mine) New York’s favorite poster boy. Fame, fortune, good looks, and countless outstanding achievements (including his four world series rings) is as close to a pure sports hero as there is. Unless you want to count the accusations of tax evasion against him. It’s hard to look at Jeter as anything else than the heart and soul of the latest Yankee dynasty, his dives into the stands, consistent clutch October performances and never say die attitude will always forever be apart of Jeter’s legacy.
  • Manny Ramirez: One of the best hitters to ever play the game, but a lot of Manny being Manny might dampen his image. Of course, who could forget his bathroom break behind the Green Monster during a mound visit in 2005. To his credit, he has brought two world championships to the Boston Red Sox, a feat not many have achieved.
  • Roger Clemens: Undeniably his work ethic and workout regiment inspires many, both in and out of the game but a black cloud hangs over him concerning his steroid use. Maybe his accomplishments weren’t a result of hard work and determination.I’ll wait to see the evidence before making a final decision.
  • Mariano Rivera: Another Yankee with an outstanding resume. Loyal, humble and a great example of a class act. His many records led the Yankees to four world championships, thus cementing him as the best closer of all-time. Right along with Jeter, Rivera seems to have it all to make him a sports hero.
  • Tom Brady: The model guy for the model NFL franchise. He just led the Patriots to a 16-0 season, first in NFL history. He has won three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVP awards, has been invited to four Pro Bowls, and has the most touchdowns in a season. Not bad right? Did I mention he dumped his former girlfriend who was more than three months pregnant with his child and is now dating a supermodel? Wow.
  • Peyton Manning: Right along with Brady at the top of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. His consistent statistical performance has led many to believe he is one of the best QB’s of all time. Though some consider Manning a sell-out for his over-exposure in advertising (Sprint, Sony, MasterCard, Gatorade, DirecTV, H.H. Gregg, the American Red Cross, ESPN This is SportsCenter ad, NFL Sunday Ticket and hosted Saturday Night Live) You can’t knock the guy for capitalizing on his fame. In Janurary 2007, he finally won the big game and won a championship.
  • Lebron James: Today is his 23rd birthday and has quite a slew of endorsements (Nike, Sprite, Powerade, Bubblicious, and Upper Deck) for his age. He has already put himself up as one of the NBA’s top players, has led his Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, and is ranked at #1 in the Forbes Top 20 Earners Under 25 with an annual earnings of 27 million dollars. James has two children at the age of 23, not really a great thing to look at and promote for the younger generation.
  • Kobe Bryant: Another one of the NBA’s best players. Has three championships under his belt, yet his reputation was tainted by a sexual assault case in 2003 and his endorsement contracts with McDonald’s, Nutella, and Ferrero SpA were terminated. Recently, his on again, off again relationship with the Los Angeles Lakers has caused his home town fans to jeer him. Not much credibility goes to Bryant these days.
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  • Jason Kidd: (Another personal favorite of mine) Was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2001. He led the Nets to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances (2002 and 2003) and is considered to be one of the best players of his era. His presence turned around a laughingstock of a franchise into a championship contender. What goes against Kidd is his domestic abuse charge in 2001 and divorce with his wife. (During several games on the road, while Kidd is attempted free-throws he is serenaded by a ‘wife-beater’ chant.) Great player, but domestic abuse? Not an interest of mine or the public.

There are other names I can put on the list as potential sports heroes but I do need to conserve space. There aren’t any names for the NHL due to the lack of overall interest from the public on the sport. Hockey’s biggest name Wayne Gretzky was involved in a gambling scandal in 2006. His wife was the one who drew most of the attention for the scandal. Gretzky hasn’t been charged in the scandal. (So I did get an NHL name in there after all).

We all look to sports as a way to get away from reality, but we forget that nothing in this world is perfect and the same goes for our sports heroes. Whether you judge them by that one moment of glory, by their statistics, or thier off the field behavior, remember we are all human and nothing should take away from the greatest moments in sports and the people who made them possible.

(Frank’s articles can also be found at OnTheBlockNY ).

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