Just a week ago, Oscar Pistorius was just the “Blade Runner” to every South African, double amputee Paralympic medalist and first amputee runner to compete in the Olympic Games, an inspiration to millions all over the world. The positive approach that he has is incredible. He was once quoted saying “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have”
And then, last Thursday February 14 2013, Oscar was painted with a different brush.On the 8am news bulletin, I heard that Oscar has accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend, mistaking her for a burglar! And the first thing I though was what a terrible tragedy. With each news bulletin, a different version of the alleged murder was revealed.
Within hours, social networks were flooded with comments, remarks, and jokes about the runner. People simply forgetting that a life was lost! Forgetting that Reeva Steenkamp was someone’s daughter! Forgetting that just months ago, we set glued to television sets, waiting anxiously to watch Oscar participate at the Olympics.
Then I had an epiphany – We find it easier to deal with fiction, than it is dealing with the truth. Maybe that’s how many people react to shock. And shock was the emotion that was felt by every South African as well as myriads around the world.
It’s been five days since the news broke to the world, and it’s unbelievable as to how many “incidents” about the runners’ personal life is surfacing; His love for fast cars, wild animals and guns. Is that not typical male interest? But do we admire a man who keeps a machine gun in the house? Whether he killed his girlfriend accidentally or deliberately?
Limiting ourselves to his behaviour on the track, many people lost some admiration for him at the London Paralympic games. He was beaten fairly by a Brazilian athlete, and his immediate response was to accuse his rival of cheating. There was no cheating. After a word from his team,(no doubt mentioning his $2 million a year sponsorship deals), backtracking followed, and an apology was made. But some of us wondered why, exactly, we were expected to admire this person.
Sportspeople are routinely held up as role models or, when they fall short, regarded as people who have fallen short and stopped being the role models that they surely could be. Sport is at the centre of our moral universe, sportspeople are a force for good. Everyone should admire and emulate them, right?
It would be easy to say that people like Pistorius are rare: that most sports stars offer great role models to young people. But then there is Lance Armstrong, barely apologising after years of drug-taking and violent threats against people in cycling who were the slightest bit curious.
Tiger Woods, and his infamous cheating scandal. There is John Terry, who was captain of the England football team when he was found to have called Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black c**t” – And after the hero’s career is over? The role model may end up like Mike Tyson?
Of course, sport is full, too, of decent and honourable people. With the likes of Pele, doing great things for Africa. David Beckham, clearly he thinks of how he can behave well, to society as well as to his family. They are worth our admiration. But then, seriously – OJ Simpson? Diego Maradona?
Aiming to find role models in sport is a dangerous business. Sportsmen seem no better behaved on the whole than any other segment of the entertainment business, with the distinction that strippers, on the whole, don’t talk piously about their duty to be “role models” or how much everyone admires them when they are arrested for killing their partners.
But even if the topic of our admiration is as well-behaved as anyone might wish, is it really the best object to present to our children for their aspiration? Children should be encouraged into libraries, to extra-mural studies, to regard revolutionaries, poets, painters, thinkers, doctors, professionals as their heroes worthy of their aspiration. They will most likely lead useful and productive lives.
The individual case is terribly sad – a young woman has been killed, and proves that the abuse of women occurs across all boundaries, irrespective of ethnic groups, or socio economic statuses. Perhaps, as the story unfolds and the court comes to its conclusion, we could wonder whether we really want to present this culture as anything worth aspiring to, or even taking much interest in.
(THIS IS MY PERSONAL OPINION)