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Oscar Pistorius Case – When Do We Stop Forgiving Athletes Their Trespasses?

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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 

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • Drew

    Victor, do some research before you “put pen to paper”. South Africa does not have a jury system

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    I stand corrected, Drew. I invite readers to check out information about the South African legal system.

  • elle

    I understand and share the concern, like all people hopefully, that the TRUTH will be revealed and justice delivered. To state presumptions; however, whether one is inclined to believe Pistorius’ account of the events, or the police’s account, as fact, as written above, is simply not just nor right nor moral. Sportsman, like all people, should be held to the same standards for justice and character, and those commenting should also remember the importance of presumption of innocence until proven guilty, while wholly supporting complete and thorough investigations to bring to light the truth and justice in the event of guilt of a heinous crime.

  • karen

    Hi, from your article I can see you have not followed the bail hearing closely. Firstly, the prosecution has nothing but circumstantial evidence which means they have no evidence to support their claim of premeditated murder, and secondly, I believe you do not understand or have experience of the violence in SA, especially Johannesburg and Pretoria. Many acts of violence, burglaries and murder take place in gated communities, and in OP’s gated residence there had been a few previous burglaries.
    I am not stating hereby, that OP is innocent, just that people outside SA have no idea of the daily fear of violence and death that people live with, and the terror it can invoke.
    I myself have been attacked in Johannesburg and since then live with anxiety at night when I am visiting there. As a woman, I am not an attacker except in self defense. However, depending on what kindof man one is, attack would be the first mode of action, as in OP’s case, not waiting for the attackers to attack you first.
    And unless you have experienced violence against you, you might not understand the fear that it instills in you thereafter.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    This seems to have been the perfect storm. There are elements of Pistorius’s character that are suggestive, such as the police testimony that they had been called out to “domestics” at that address several times previously. He’s also seemed prone to paranoia in the past, for example the incident at the last Paralympics where he publicly accused a rival of cheating. Add to this that he lives in one of the most crime-ridden and violence-plagued cities in the world, and this was a tragedy waiting to happen.

    Whether he and Steenkamp were having a fight, or whether he genuinely did think she was a burglar, may become clearer in due course. Personally I think the prosecution does have a pretty watertight case.

    I do agree with Victor that Pistorius seems to be using his disability in a calculated way. I have a friend who was born with the same condition, and she is perfectly capable of walking – not crawling – on her stumps at a pinch. It’s probably something Pistorius does in the privacy of his own home all the time, especially if he has to get up in the night and doesn’t want the hassle of putting his prostheses on. I don’t buy that he felt vulnerable simply because he wasn’t wearing them.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Thanks for all your comments. I’m from NYC, and I understand people feeling vulnerable. Perhaps what is going on in Pretoria is frighening for people. All of this (and I am sure there is even more) will be brought out in the trial.

    I think there is one thing that is not in question: Pistorius shot the girl. He did it. Even O.J. had a the question of doubt on his side. Here we have the killer and that is a fact. What happens next will be in the court, of course, and all the pressure of public opinion and everything else will be brought to bear.

    I still believe that athletes get away with way too many transgressions. If Pistorius even did think she was a robber, does he still not have liability for her death? He killed her and should have some accountability for that. Her parents had to bury a 29 year old daughter. Do they have a chance for justice here?

  • Anne

    It is evident that you haven’t been paying close attention to the case and his testimony. Really, this is the only person I feel to go out on a limb for. And I will keep on saying it, no one can rationally simulate the event in their mind when in a non-traumatized state. It is evident that Pistorius had some kind of PTSD as a result of being a victim of a violent home invasion. His paranoia is in direct relation to that event. Once I heard that, the story actually made more sense. It is so easy to say what you would have done, but really you wouldn’t know. Also, the “domestic violence” case that was mentioned on this feed actually was an accident; a girl refused to leave his property, he slammed the door and caught her foot. Secondly, there is actually no evidence stacked against him. The prosecution has not proven that the evidence is not consistent with his testimony. Look at the case with clarity, look at the man, his disposition, and the case itself instead of comparing him to other cases and people who have demonstrated that they do not have half the character he expressed. All those athletes you mentioned did not show the amount of remorse and compassion Pistorius exemplified at the hearings. Don’t let those cases cloud your judgement. Presume innocence until proven guilty, as I would want the same for me. Yes he did kill her, and there should be legal consequence to that, and Pistorius does not deny that. I think he feels he deserves it too.

  • @Anne

    Nice spin Team Pistorius…I’ve been suspiciously hearing the same worded scriptsnon different comment blogs/websites. While this poster just be gullible and using their script somehown the wording is creepy. So good job paying all that money to your PR team Pistorius family…might just work. Oh the other site was a fun light gossip site called ‘Celebitchy’ and the one of those scripty posters name was @Annie. ‘Maybe co-imcidence or they are spreading the image rehab widely.
    p.s. He just is seems so guilty of murdering her. Or at least first degree stupidity to think it will all go away!