Olympic Heroes: An Oxymoron
By Marty Nemko
In recent days, most newspapers headlines tout our Olympic heroes. For example, today’s front page of USAToday.com is regaled with a photo and headline, “US Women Win Hockey Bronze”
Even had they won the gold, would that merit such accord? After all, all they’ve done for the world is to have entertained a tiny fraction of us for a relative blink in our lives. Besides, should we consider Olympic athletes to be role models: people who, while still young children, tossed away a balanced childhood in favor of six to eight hours a day of highly repetitive, exhausting practice sessions? And for what? So they could beat Finland for a bronze medal? 999 out of 1,000 Olympic aspirant children don’t even get that far, let alone win a gold, let alone help a sick person, let alone help stop world hunger.
The Olympics is but one reminder of how shallowly we choose our heroes. According to a 2006 Gallup Poll, five of the six most admired men and women are politicians (George Bush is #1). The other is an entertainer. (Oprah.)
Yes, a great politician deserves to be a hero, but George Bush? Even if you’re a Republican, does he deserve to be America’s most admired person?
Instead, I invite you to consider the people profiled in the book and PBS-TV series: They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators by Harold Evans. Most of these innovators risked decades of their lives in search of a long shot they hoped would improve the world forever. For example:
Oliver Evans: steam engine
Eli Whitney: cotton gin, which, in turn, triggered the Machine Age.
Samuel Morse: telegraph
Isaac Singer: sewing machine
Elisha Otis: safety elevator
Lewis Tappan: credit rating.
Thomas Edison: light bulb
Leo Baekeland: plastic
Wilbur and Orville Wright: airplane
Edwin Armstrong: radio
George Selden: automobile
George Eastman: the affordable camera
Garrett Morgan: gas mask
Philo Farnsworth: television.
Thomas Watson: mainframe computer
Jean Neiditch: Weight Watchers.
Herb Boyer and Robert Swanson, the biotech industry
Joan Ganz Cooney: Sesame Street.
Ted Turner: CNN--24-hour electronic news.
Raymond Damadian: MRI scanner.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin: Google.
A few others not in the book:
Craig Venter – decoded the human genome
Flossie Wong-Staal – on team that discovered HIV virus.
George Washington Carver: peanut butter
Marie Curie—co-discovered the X-rayToday, when our careers are consuming an ever larger part of our lives, we especially need heroes and role models that can inspire us. We’d be wiser to look to those listed in the previous paragraph than to our athletes.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2018. Usage Rights