CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

Definition of hero

‘Why has she bothered with this article?’ you might ask. ‘We can just look it up in the dictionary ourselves and save a few clicks.’

My problem with the standard definition of the term hero in this day and age is that the original definition has been overshadowed by these substandard and, in my opinion, misunderstood appropriations.

I feel this especially now, recently after the Sochi Winter Olympic Games and with the World Cup on the horizon, and believe the word hero is thrown about in a mad attempt to glorify athletes as something other or more than they are.

hero (noun)—an individual who is admired for bravery and selfless deeds

This definition is quite often lost in the white noise of sport. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a rugby player referred to as a hero, I would be very rich indeed. It saddens me that people who put their lives at risk to save others and with no promise of personal riches or glory are put on par with (or, even worse, overshadowed by) people who get paid to play sport for a living.

A day in the life of a firefighter could see them battling fierce blazes in the mountains or charging into a burning house to save the occupants from burns or smoke inhalation. There is always the risk that they might not return from those mountains or that the house may collapse on them, but they don’t hesitate, they just go in, because they know lives could be at stake. When an individual cares more about the wellbeing of another and risks their own life to save that person, that is true heroism.

Compare that to a day in the life of a sports star. They arrive at the ground in the team bus, go downstairs for a prep talk, maybe a pre-game massage, pull on their jerseys, then run out onto the pitch to play in front of a cheering crowd. There is no act of bravery involved, no act of selflessness. Yes, they have worked tirelessly to achieve their position of greatness and may have made many personal sacrifices, but very few sports stars have ever undertaken that challenge for another’s benefit. Therein lies the difference. And before you think it, no, I don’t believe for a second that any sports star does it all ‘for the fans’.

idol (noun)—a person or thing that is revered

This is the word, I believe, you should use when describing that sports star or celebrity you look up to and wish to be when you grow up. Your David Beckhams and Cathy Freemans, your Michael Jordans and Usain Bolts are your idols, not your heroes.

However, your heroes could easily become your idols.

If ever you are caught in a house fire or find yourself pinned against the wall of a dark alley with a knife at your throat, those people who rescue you, who throw themselves into danger at great personal risk—those are your true heroes. They could be a stranger or your best friend, they could be a police officer or even that homeless guy you’ve seen on that street corner day in, day out. They most certainly won’t be your favourite sports star.

Have a little think about that.

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