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Does TrackTown corrupt the definition of “heroes” by using it for jocks?

I’m no classics professor, but the Greeks had a word for people who could run fast, jump high, and throw far. That word was heroes. Of course that word doesn’t mean what Tracktown thinks it means:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆοςοὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκεν

Greek heroes were also known for their arrogant self-importance, violent rages, occasional rapes, self-indulgence, and other forms of socially and self destructive behavior. But times have changed. The author of this recent letter to the editor in the RG, and most of the many commenters, believe that the modern definition of heroism should require self-sacrifice on behalf of others:

I and numerous others who’ve actually served this country are sick of hearing “The heroes are coming!” shouted out repeatedly at us to promote the Olympic Trials in Eugene.

The term “hero” has become overused, abused and is semantically out of place.

There is nothing heroic about a bunch of jocks. I don’t care how talented they are — just because you can run, jump or throw something doesn’t justify the title.

They may be fine athletes, but they do not deserve to be referred to as heroes. Reserve that for our military, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other men and women who truly deserve the title. Save it for the real heroes who actually serve their country and lay their lives on the line every day.

THOMAS GATES, Springfield

Well put, Mr. Gates.


  1. Anas clypeata 07/12/2016

    To be fair, it was clear from the overall context and the comic-style drawings of athletes that were on the tickets, program, and other marketing materials that “heroes” was meant as shorthand for “superheroes”, i.e. comic-book-style characters in skin-tight getups with physical powers that exceed those of the general populace, who merely occupy mundane bags of meat.

    Any reasonable person who saw Jenn Suhr pole vault into the sky or Ashton Eaton complete his ten events (and partake in delightful homoerotic frolicking in the steeplechase water hazard) would not argue with this use of the word.

    • Oryx 07/12/2016

      It certainly wasn’t “clear” to me. I didn’t look at marketing materials, though, and only saw giant, very off-putting posters about “heroes.”

  2. C1133 07/12/2016

    I love track and field, and I go to a lot of meets here at Hayward Field. And I agree that Ashton and Jenn are gorgeous, and accomplished, and possessed of awesome physical powers and enormous discipline.
    But I was offended by the stupid ad campaign and the huge sign festooning the stadium for weeks and proclaiming that “the heroes are coming”. Wha…? We already have heroes in this town.

  3. Ben 07/13/2016

    Normally I would agree with this as being an abuse of the word– except that this is the Olympics. While not as important as it once was, perhaps in the Cold War era, they are still representing our country in a world-wide event of celebrating one’s national pride. Their impact does far exceed their own individual talents.

  4. L.White 07/13/2016

    There are plenty of examples and personal stories that make Olympians heroes for their communities. This doesn’t seem like a particularity tough concept to grasp. John Carlos was at the trials this year. Surely one can see why he might be considered a hero. Are we no longer allowed to called Jesse Owens a Hero? Really? Since we are really narrowing down who can be considered a hero we also have to take military personnel and police officers off the revised hero list because of the occasional murder here and there. Just doing your job and or following orders ins’t really heroic to me anyway.”There is nothing heroic about a bunch of jocks.” Sounds like Tom always got picked last to be on the kickball team during PE.

    • uomatters Post author | 07/13/2016

      Tommie Smith and John Carlos were heroes to me – I was 9 – but not because they could run fast. That just got them on TV while the Star-Spangled Banner was played.

      Apparently they weren’t heroes to Duck basketball coach Dana Altman though, based on how he reacted 2 years ago when *his* players gave the Black Lives Matter hands-up gesture at Matt Court, also on TV, and also during the Star-Spangled Banner. From the Oregonian:

      EUGENE — Oregon Ducks basketball players Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell made their statement on Sunday when they held their hands up during the National Anthem, though head coach Dana Altman wishes they would have done it on their own time.

      When Oregon hosted Mississippi, Bell, a freshman, and Benjamin, a junior, held their hands up above their waists throughout the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner and then appeared to frisk each other as the team’s starting lineup was announced.

      The actions appeared to be linked to recent federal grand jury decisions to not indict police officers who had slain two African-American men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York. Players across sports have taken action to protest the deaths, most notably in the NBA, where stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have worn “I can’t breathe” shirts in warmups in reference to Garner’s death.

      Altman said he didn’t know the two players had planned the demonstration, though said he talked to them about it after.

      “I think every player has a right to express their opinion, however I didn’t think that was the time and place for it,” Altman said. “On their own as individuals, they have that right. As part of our basketball team, when you put the Oregon jersey on, it’s a little different. So, I think there’s a time and place for everything. I don’t think that was the appropriate time.”

      Benjamin and Bell have not been made available to comment.

      “… have not been made available for comment”. He thinks he owns them?

      • eugenenative 07/14/2016

        Tommie Smith.

        • uomatters Post author | 07/14/2016

          Thanks, it was a long time ago!

      • L.White 07/14/2016

        I remember this and was upset at Altman’s response. It sounds like as soon as you put on an Oregon jersey you become university property. The UO and other universities use NCAA athlete’s names and likeness to recruit student, sell tickets and merchandise but can treat student athletes pretty awful in return for all of that revenue. Not a lot of NCAA players will feel comfortable speaking out against injustice and being the heroes they can be. Especially if their head coach publicly shames them for standing in solidarity with protesters fighting for humane treatment.
        This reminds me of the protests by Mizzou Football players. This was pretty heroic to me. In response to the player’s disobedience, a Rep in MO proposed a house bill that threatened to revoke student athlete scholarships should they come up with any bright ideas like this again. “House Bill 1743 provides that any college athlete on scholarship who refuses to play for a reason unrelated to health shall have his or her scholarship revoked”
        For me, athletics and social justice are very much intertwined. Jesse Owen, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Jackie- Joyner, FloJo, Cullen Jones, Gabby Douglas, and Simone Biles are names are the ones that come to mind when these Olympians are called heroes. I think much of the time athletes (particularly the black athletes I identify with) aren’t just representing themselves as an arrogant self-important jocks. They often represent their neighborhood, city, state and Black America. The fact that through adversity these athletes have made it to a world stage to compete as a representative of the United States is huge. Even if they aren’t raising their fists on the podium that representation alone can be enough to call someone a hero. It’s not like TrackTown calls every track athlete at every track meet a hero. The Olympics trials host athletes who have met an exceptional standard. Making the US team is symbol of something deeper. Especially if you are from a community in the US that has been historically deemed inferior in every way. The comparison to Greek heroes as self-indulgent occasional rapist struck a chord with me because I do see this team as made up of heroes, past and present.

        • uomatters Post author | 07/14/2016

          Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

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