--"Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy."--F. Scott Fitzgerald--
In the wake of the Freeh Report regarding the events and the cover-up by the so called leaders at Penn State University, F. Scott Fitzgerald's quote has once again been proven to be true. For decades at State College, Pennsylvania Joe Paterno was placed upon a pedestal that many considered to rival a God. He was considered to be all that is good in not only football, but in competitive sports as a whole. Little did everyone know how dangerous putting a mere mortal on such a huge platform could be. Once a hero, now a great tragedy.
The tragic stories of heroes expands far beyond the the boundaries of Central Pennsylvania and can be found in all sports, everywhere. In baseball, who could forget Lenny Dykstra and "Charlie Hustle" with their regularly dirty uniforms, and equally dirty personal lives. Then there were the young phenoms in Flushing, New York. In the mid-1980's Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden seemed to be on the fast track to Cooperstown. Young fans from all parts of the country dreamed of hitting towering homeruns like Strawberry, or firing a fastball by the league's best hitters, like Gooden. Both players received Rookie of the Year honors, Strawberry in 1983 followed by Gooden in 1984, and then further captured the hearts of the entire city of New York by helping the Mets win the 1986 World Series over the Boston Red Sox. The Championship trophy was presented to the heroes of New York that October evening, and the famous ticker-tape parade was planned. When parade kicked off, however, one star player was absent from the festivities. Dwight Gooden's world was in a tailspin at a drug dealers house, and he missed the entire celebration. Thanks for coming out, sorry kids I couldn't make it. Sorry? Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were only two of the many players on that 1986 team to have legal problems, but they were the young phenoms that threw away the prime of their careers because of drugs and alcohol.
Another New York icon guilty of compromising his raw talents during his career was the great Mickey Mantle. A young star in the making who could run like the wind, track balls hit to the outfield, and hit towering homeruns resembling those hit by Babe Ruth. A well deserving member of the Hall of Fame, Mantle captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere in the 1950's and 1960's. The bright light of his shining star, however, blinded people from what was really going on beyond the playing field. The late nights of alcohol abuse finally caught up with him and eventually cost him his life. If Mantle would have been capable of staying away from the alcohol, it is difficult to imagine how many records he could still own today. Nearly one month before he lost his final battle with cirrhosis and liver cancer, he met with the media to make peace with his many followers. His swagger, and boyish enthusiasm was reduced to a frail, old shell of what was once a divine example of every young baseball fan's dream. Regardless, he faced the crowd and stated: "This is a role model. Don't be like me."
Mickey Mantle might have been speaking for himself when he made that statement in July of 1995 but it should hold true for most athletes and celebrities. Children today need to realize that athletes and celebrities are human, and the price of fame is sometimes a recipe for disaster. Lenny Dykstra, Pete Rose, "Doc" Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mickey Mantle, Joe Paterno, Elvis Presley, Charlie Sheen; the list keeps going and sadly new names are frequently added. A hero for a day? Yes. A lifetime of memories? Perhaps. A role model for the youth of America? Try Mom and Dad because as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said; "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy."