If you take a quick look at Oscar Pistorius’s web site, it takes you more than a few seconds to get past all the inspiring photographs of the Paralympian to see the message about the incident involving the death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. If you look at the careful wording, you can see the lawyers wrote the text, but aren’t those pictures so undeniably awesome? Oscar’s such a nice guy in those shots, right?
Pistorius rose to fame at the 2012 London Olympics, where he ran on his carbon-fiber blades along side athletes who had their legs. Pistorius lost both legs as a baby, but his story of running on his prosthetics inspired people the world over, and he earned the nickname “Blade Runner” and the adoration of millions. It is a wonderful example of the human spirit; unfortunately, it does not have a storybook ending. Pistorius (26) is accused of shooting and killing Steenkamp (29) on Valentine’s Day. He claims he thought she was an intruder, but prosecutors presented evidence that they say proves that is impossible. He is currently out on 100,000 rand ($73,000) bail awaiting trial for premeditated murder.
Perhaps as O.J. Simpson’s trial was called “the trial of the century” back in the 1990s, we will have the next one here. It does not matter whether it is South Africa or Los Angeles; this is another example of athletes gone wild. How many times has the pattern been repeated? Again and again athletes disappoint us. They rape, murder, father children with multiple partners, they drink, they drug, and they exhibit unsportsmanlike conduct on the field and in public. And we seem complicit in that we continue to adore them, to heap praise on them, to raise them to the heights of Olympus as bronze heroes to be adored.
Until this day I still hear people say that O.J. was not guilty. I have heard the apologists for Alex Rodriguez (MLB), Plaxico Burress (NFL), Metta World Peace (NBA), Sean Avery (NHL), Tiger Woods (golf), and Mike Tyson (boxing) to name a few, and I could attach a list of athletes behaving badly that would be longer the Long Island Expressway.
Besides these athletes actually hurting their sport and the legions of fans who adore them (especially children), the consequences sometimes seem non-existent. O.J. got away with it for years (until jailed on a separate charge), and many simply go free. At this point the public seems almost inured to their transgressions, willing to almost ignore their crimes and misdemeanors for the sake of the team or sports in general.
This Pistorius case really is a tipping point for me. If this guy should get away with it, I think that we have turned an intractable corner. I do understand that there has to be a trial, but the evidence seems stacked against him. Pistorius and Steenkamp lived in a gated community, so an intruder seems implausible. Even if there was someone inside the bathroom, why not just yell through the door “I have a gun” and call police? Of course, there will be those who support Pistorius and make all kinds of excuses, especially citing his disability. Even Pistorius himself has used it to his advantage, saying that he was crawling on his stumps and felt intimidated and that’s why he fired.
The trial will be sensational no doubt. A South African magistrate will be susceptible to Pistorius’s celebrity, his disability notwithstanding. If what Magistrate Desmond Nair said after releasing him on bail is any indication (prosecution had not presented enough evidence to keep Pistorius jailed), we are in for a bumpy ride. The fact that the courtroom erupted in cheers when Pistorius was released is an ominous sign indeed.
The parents of Reeva Steenkamp are devastated right now. You know that they must rue the day she ever met Pistorius. Just look at her face, her beauty savagely destroyed by four bullets discharged by Pistorius on Valentine’s Day, a day supposedly meant for love but instead it became one for heated arguments and ultimately death. Reeva Steenkamp cries out for justice from her grave, but does anyone care?
I think we have all forgiven too many athletes their trespasses. If we the fans do not make a stand somewhere soon, then children will continue to think these behaviors are implicitly acceptable. How long can that go on? If Pistorius gets away with it, we will have reached a place where there may be no turning back. That will be a sad day for fans everywhere but especially our kids, for then we will be saying that even murder is okay as long as you can perform on the court or field.
Obviously, we are to blame. We elevate players to heroic status, but they are not gods or demigods, they are only humans. They have their tragic flaws, and when they fail we are not able to process it, so we make excuses and try to prop them up and raise them to their former glorious heights. Unfortunately, it’s a long hike to the top of Olympus, and that only makes it more difficult and painful for us when heroes inevitably fall again.
Photo Credits: pistorius – nytimes; steenkamp – cbsnews.com