Vol. 10, No. 5 email@example.com www.thespiritualherald.org May 2011 © 2011 Eastern Tsalagi Publishing Co.
Music and Entertainment
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Hero Worship of Jocks Rewinds to Past
By Tom Toolen
NEW YORK--Hero worship of athletes is rampant these days, with fanatical fans honoring athletes as if they were gods speaking from Mount Olympus.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Americans love identifying with sports events like the Super Bowl, the Masters golf tournament or heavyweight championship fights, all of which can propel them to a happier place free from any job, health or marriage woes that may exist.
Major sports events, thanks to smart promoters and an all-encompassing media blitz, are full of hype and ballyhoo to capture public attention.
While the electronic and digital age has made today’s sports more accessible to all of America, crossing all geographical and cultural boundaries, the age of the sports hero really began in the early part of the last century—generally in the 1920s.
The print media was the only game in town except for radio, and promoters worked hard to idealize the athletes and the games they played.
All the ballyhoo may have been necessary to get the messages across to the public without televisions, but it didn’t have to be that good because in the 20s, the titans of sports really did emerge across the board. It may have been that these super stars were the first to be publicized, but they would have been monumental in any era.
It was the beginning of what we now call the Golden Age of Sports.
Storied heroes dominated the headlines and their reputations have grown even larger today with a nostalgic public.
When Babe Ruth hit another towering home run in Yankee Stadium, fans would go berserk as they showered their love on the out-of-shape Ruth, whose off-field drinking and womanizing reminded them that he, too, was imperfect.
Fans also loved Bobby Jones, the great golfer who was on the other end of the social spectrum from Ruth. A classy athlete who changed golf from being a rich man’s game into a spectator sport, Jones was the epitome of a gentleman. Yet he was a fierce competitor who won just about all the amateur and professional tournaments, including the revered majors both in America and England.
Heroes showed up across the sports world in the 20s. There was tennis player Helen Wills, who revolutionized women’s tennis by telling females they, too, could be competitive.
One of the biggest heroes was Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion called the Manassa Mauler who put boxing on the map across the nation. Dempsey, a good-looking and outgoing athlete who turned into a total destroyer in the ring, helped make boxing extremely popular with a public suffering in the midst of the Great Depression.
A beloved hero during that era was Knute Rockne, an unknown college football coach in the beginning who transformed Notre Dame’s football team into a national icon before he died young. Because of Rockne, college football became popular with millions of fans, most of whom who never went to college.
The list goes on and on. There was Johnny Weissmuller, who dominated the Olympic swimming world before he became the movie’s Tarzan.
The stage was set for the heroes to follow who would break the racial barriers in sports—the great Muhammad Ali who dominated boxing for a decade and legendary Jackie Robinson, the first black major league player, who changed baseball forever when he took the field in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There were other black athletes that followed—Althea Gibson in women’s tennis and football player Bobby Mitchell, who desegregated the Washington Redskins 50 years ago.
But it was the athletes in the roaring 20s who grabbed the public by the heartstrings that made all the economic and racial gains possible years later.
By the time the early pioneers were done, the public was used to all the ballyhoo, from the the ticker tape parades down Fifth Avenue for New York teams that won the World Series to parades for others like aviator Charles Lindberg for conquering the Atlantic on his own.
Basically, it was an era of big events and big ballyhoo.
It was larger than life because Americans were in the midst of a Great Depression and needed some cheering up.
“If a person had no job, and little money, at least he could buy a ticket and see Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig hit homers, or watch the majesty of Bill Tilden as he demolished opponents, or go see Man of War at the track,” said sports psychologist Jack Becker. “It didn’t cost so much in the old days, and fans could forget about their troubles for a few hours.”
“Our sports heroes are our warriors,” added Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University. “Fans are centrally involved in the outcome of the sporting event, whether their team or their athlete wins or loses. It is not just a pleasant diversion for the true sports fan.”
Cialdini said the fact is “whoever you root for represents you on the field or in the arena. Fans are taken out of their mundane routine and into the excitement of sports battles.”
And an intense interest in a team can buffer fans from depression and feelings of self-worth.
Daniel Wann, Ph.D., a psychologist at Murray State University in Kentucky, has done several studies on fan reactions which shows that their psyches are definitely wrapped up with their sports heroes.
“If their team wins, a fan’s self-esteem also rises dramatically,” Wann said. “Whatever he or she does after the victory, they do it better than they would if their team lost. This goes for dating, performing their jobs or playing darts.”
In modern society, with plenty of ills and wars going on, athletes play a role of booster for their team’s city and state, allowing the fans to participate in combat with other cities without spilling a drop of blood themselves.