I had heroes once as a boy. Posters Scotch taped to my walls, athletes fastened to my heart. How did they do those things? The footballer running with ball glued to foot, the helmet-less cricketer walking out to fast bowler, the twisting diver. I stood on the couch. God, I said; Gods, I thought.
Then I grew up and became a sportswriter and crossed that line that separates us from them. It was a fine education because I am intrigued by what provokes greatness. I travelled in team buses, asked athletes how they kept technique pure under pressure, hung out in the bowels of stadiums as they emerged from contests their bodies still humming with energy.
But something else occurred. On TV, the athlete looked immortal. From 10ft away, the illusion of saintliness was peeled away. These were but ordinary folk with one extraordinary skill. Away from the floodlights, the sweat dried, they often lost their shine. You realize the superhero from your wall has no cape, that you have the good and bad mixed up. Great athlete and good person were not to be confused. Champions, so many suffused with arrogance, could be jerks.
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