Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

As the news spread about U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino's sexual dalliance with Karen Sypher, and the resulting abortion, I'm struck with conflicting emotions.  On one hand, I'm dissatisfied with the behavior of a person so admired and respected throughout the college basketball community, and on the other hand, I'm left with the feeling that this revelation falls in line with others who have been the recipient of such intense, widespread adulation.

For me, it all began with Elvis Presley, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose.  Three public figures whom I have no relation to whatsoever, other than an admiration for the God-given talents they were so generously blessed with.  As a young boy I idolized Presley mostly because of his larger-than-life persona, and the fact that he was the coolest "thing" I had ever seen.  Pre-adolescents, a group I was a member of in the '70's, are an impressionable lot, and tend to see only the good in people.  And in Presley, I saw a lot of good.

The same is true for Bench and Rose, two members of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.  I watched with great admiration and envy two of the greatest baseball players of all time, and reveled in the fact that they could perform so majestically, while so many others failed to perform at all.  They were the best players on my favorite team, a team my DNA dictates I follow without fail.  They were without fault, in my innocent, youthful eyes.

As I grew older, I learned about the Civil Rights struggles of the 50's and 60's, and I developed a tremendous admiration and respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  I read over, and over, detailed accounts of his activities, his marches, his courage, and his unfailing dedication to gaining equal rights for people of color.  His famous "I have a Dream" speech still sends tingles down my spine whenever I hear a replay of that seminal moment in U.S .history.  To me, King stood for all that was right, all that was just, and all that should be.

Four idols, four can-do-no-wrong, larger-than-life personalities: Presley, Bench, Rose, and King.  My Mount Rushmore.

But, as surely as the sand effortlessly slides through the hour-glass, I grew into adulthood, and my child-like conceptions began to crumble, along with my Rushmore.  I soon learned that my idols were not perfect, they in truth, were not cut from a more pure, unsoiled cloth.  They were in fact imperfect, and in some cases, to a large degree: Elvis and his prescription drug addition, Rose and his gambling on baseball, Bench and his extremely abrasive personality, and King and his extramarital affairs.

Four princes, felled by the fact that they are human beings.  Alas, my friends, there lies the rub.

Upon discovering the less-than-perfect nature of my four heroes, I was dazed and confused.  I asked myself, "How could these men, these great men, fall prey to such pedestrian dalliances?  How could they dare be human?"  Well, because they are flesh and blood, just like every other clothes-wearing Earthly inhabitant, that's why -- That was my hard learned lesson.

The question then, is this: Do the sins of the hero lessen that which the hero accomplished?  I think not.  Rose is still the "Hit King", Bench is still the greatest catcher to ever play the game, Presley is still the "King of Rock-and-Roll," and King is still responsible for changing a nation's Neanderthal policies.  Because they are imperfect should not alter the impact of their individual accomplishments.  They only proved with their sins that they were indeed human, and not robotic.

So who are we left with to look up to, to admire, to respect?  Who won't let us down?  Well, for me, I found my present-day heroes a little closer to home.  I look at who has the highest character of anyone I know.  I look at who instilled in me my sense of values and family.  I look at who fed, clothed, and nurtured me without fail.  I look at who presented me with opportunities, many times sacrificing to do so.  I look at who should have kicked me to the curb on more than one occasion as a young man, but instead, taught me that regardless of how ugly the deed, I had worth.  I look at my parents, Coleman and Linda, because I know, even though they are human and make mistakes,  they will never let me down.

Instead of looking for heroes on television or in arenas, we should be looking for heroes in our everyday lives.  Because our everyday lives are filled with people we love, and who love us.  Our everyday lives are filled with people who love us in spite of our quirks and short-comings; who love us even when we are unlovable.  The father who plays catch with his son, the mother who teaches her daughter the art of cooking, the grandfather who takes his grandchildren fishing, the grandmother who reads tales of dogs and cats to her grandkids.  These are the true heroes.  Not some ballplayer who can hit better than most, or a coach who wins more often than not. 

We're all fallible, which puts us all on a level playing field.  But I know who I can count on, and so do you.  And isn't that the most import thing?  It turns out, one doesn't have to travel great distances to find an idol worthy of idolatry.  Most times that person is sitting across from you at the dinner table, or sleeping down the hallway, or awaiting your daily or weekly phone call.  It's someone you've known your entire life.

It's someone who loved you even when loving you wasn't easy.  It's someone who picked you up when you felt like laying down forever.  It's someone who consoled you when you lost something special.  It's someone who supported you even though support was hard to give.  It's someone who, without any doubt, will always answer the cry for help.  Our heroes mingle among us ... every-day.

So, when John Wall throws that pin-point 35-foot bounce pass to Patrick Patterson for a dunk, or John Calipari extracts victory out of certain defeat, before the hero worship begins, ask yourself ... "Would I die for him?"

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!

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