Defining Hero Up

by Patrick Appel

Rob Goodman wants to stop abusing the word "hero," especially in sports:

[It's] ridiculous to suggest that heroism belongs to everyone in a given line of work, as if qualifying for hero simply meant filling out a job application and providing references. It's condescending, too. How low are our expectations if people who do competent work are treated as if they're exceptional? Those who selflessly serve don't need our hyperbolic and inapt praise to do their jobs; they simply need respect for a job well done.

And they need heroes as much as the rest of us. The best justification for the larger-than-life world of sports I've ever seen wasn't any particular game, but a 30-second commercial in which office workers were shown celebrating a new contract just like professional athletes--dousing each other with Gatorade and jumping onto a dog pile in the nearest cubicle. The joke actually hurts after a while--most of us will never have the chance to celebrate an accomplishment of our own with that kind of hubristic pride. It would be rude, disruptive--entirely too much. The ordinary rules of decorum make our life together livable, even when they make it tedious. That's why, for so many of us, sports are a cathartic outlet, a place of outsize passions and unfamiliar moral rules--a vacation from virtue.