Metro, Featured Column

The End of the Line for Our Heroes: How City Sports Figures are in Decline

The reality of the situation is beginning to sink in—the unthinkable, paradigm-shifting event that many within the industry refused to accept as fact has come to the forefront. What was once an afterthought has metamorphisized into a nightmare, the type in which you find yourself consciously trying to wake up but are unable to. When the day finally comes, we have but to ask, will there ever be another individual who rivals the type of influence David Ortiz has had over one city?

The last few years have seen the relatively common practice of city icons begin to erode like limestone under acid rain into oblivion, with Ortiz the latest to call it quits. Sports icons, especially those that have managed to remain in the same city for over a decade, are an endangered species. These individuals, with other examples being Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant, carry larger-than-life personas that transcend their own individuality, resulting in their becoming synonymous with their respective cities.

Each, with his or her distinctive personality, has also served as a source of hope and normality during times of tragedy, Jeter with his cool, composed demeanor in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Ortiz with his “This is our f——g city” speech after the Marathon bombings in 2013.

They represented the values of a community that took them in as one of their own. But these characters are becoming an endangered species. In an era of globalized media with absurd amounts of money being thrown around, it has become difficult for individuals to remain loyal to their home fan base (I’m looking at you, Kevin Durant). A worthwhile question would be to evaluate whether loyalty can even be expected at this point.

People my age, those born between ’94 and ’97, were blessed with a plethora of heroes to look up to—we knew nothing other than Ortiz in Boston and Jeter in New York. That was the law of the land. When Jeter finally retired in 2014, one of my good friends actually had tears in his eyes, a feeling many around here will experience  when Ortiz plays his last game in October.

Are such icons necessary, or even beneficial to a city? Should we continue with the expectation that athletes should be held to a higher standard, while also publicly chastising their every mistake? Should kids idolize these characters and follow their every move, especially with the prominence of social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat that give unprecedented access into their private lives?

The type of society we are moving toward is one that no longer holds traditional values in the same regard, where many are no longer expected to live up to the almost impeccable standard of behavior of athletes of the past. In fact, the public is acknowledging the human capacity for error, to an extent, like when swimmer Ryan Lochte had a run-in with Brazilian authorities during the Olympics. All a public figure has to do to re-enter the good graces of the public is issue an apology.

Even NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley once said that he is not a role model, that just because he can dunk a basketball does not mean he should raise your kids. I think he has a point.

For now, the best we can do is enjoy the end of the era of the city icons, where individuals still stand for something other than themselves and experience absolute adoration within the confines of their city. Farewell tours for athletes, like the ones enjoyed by Kobe, Jeter, and now Ortiz, will soon become a thing of the past, since it is highly unlikely that another star stays for the requisite time at one institution to receive that type of universal affection.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

September 7, 2016

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