Today it seems we are surrounded by sports scandal and greed. From the looming NFL shutdown of the 2011 season to the criminal conviction of baseball star Barry Bonds for obstruction of justice or the homophobic rant given by Kobe Bryant to an NBA referee, there are plenty of examples to illustrate my point.
The great escape from reality that sports used to offer has become just as troubling and tiresome as the trials and tribulations of our daily lives.
Kids used to look up to sports heroes whojm they saw as bigger than life. That because the sports stars of days gone by were people you could look up to and aspire to be. Sports used to be an oasis where the back of the paper or sports TV reporting was a respite from the "news" of the day. Today, the excesses we see in sports are exposed on the front page and business pages of the newspaper with the same greed and coldness you might find in a rogue Fortune 500 company.
Today more than ever, America needs heroes -- people we all can look up to and admire. Sports figures, celebrities, politicians and entertainers who choose to enter public life have a special responsibility to live their lives in a manner which brings respect to themselves and their professions. Of course, parents should be the ultimate role models for their children. But let's face it, the kinds of people kids look up to and seek to emulate also have an influence on them. And you know what, often, the people kids look up to most are sports figures.
How many sports stars realize how very lucky they are? They are paid millions of dollars to play a sport that they love. It is a career they worked years to break into to and in the end a career that they chose. They knew it carried special responsibilities because of the very public nature of their work.
Realizing of course the frailties of individuals, it is not that we should paint athletes as saints. We should, however, hold them to a higher standard than the mere mortal.
In 2009, Steve Raich's stellar book "True Heroes of Sports: Discovering the Heart of a Champion," the author defined what a hero should be.
"What do you think of when you hear the word hero? When I think of the concept of a hero, the word character immediately comes to mind."
"We look up to our heroes, admire them, and even follow them. But how can we do any of these things if our heroes do not possess good character?"
Raich goes on to wrestle with the problem of defining a hero based on the current culture of a 24/7 news cycle and athletes who having little or no privacy.
"A hero is not merely someone who can hit a baseball 400 feet, sink a 40 foot putt, nail a 3-pointer, leap into the end zone, or win a gold medal."
"Heroes are much more than that. They are people who do not live for accolades or big bank accounts. Rather they live to fulfill their God-given destinies and to use their talents and gifts to leave the world a better place because of their influence."
I agree with Raich's assessment that although we may have a hard time coming up with a definition of what a hero is, there is no doubt that we all can clearly identify when someone possesses that special something. That "it" which we cannot adequately define but can identify is the heart of a champion. And that heart is not beating to the same rhythm in the run-of-the-mill athlete.
I respectfully submit that heroes are not made when they sign a multi-million dollar contract. Heroes are born into a family, whose values and character shape their ultimate destiny. Little League coaches can have a greater impact on a developing player than a college or professional coach could ever hope to have.
That is why it is so very important that kids have heroes.
But in order for kids to have heroes they have to have access to them beyond what they see on television. That is why it is so important for sports to be accessible and affordable to families.
Owners must make it their mission to keep ticket prices and the experience of sports within the affordability of the average fan.
Our country continues to face the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Our national unemployment rate still exceeds 8 percent. Businesses are closing, folks are losing their homes and cars, yet, and at ballparks with high-ticket prices you would think we are in boom times. A recent study shows that 63 percent of fans believe that high-ticket prices are preventing families from attending sporting events.
The average cost for a family of three to attend ONE game is as follows:
3 Loge Level tickets: $150.00 @50.00 per.
3 Hot Dogs, Sodas, and Cracker Jacks: $44.00
3 Baseball Caps: $57.00
Total cost: $271
If you can believe it, the average cost for a ticket to a MLB game went up this year by 5 percent. Is it any wonder ballparks all across the country are suffering from low attendance? Attendance nationally is down by 6 percent. It is just plain wrong that sports fans from infants to seniors are denied the ability to be there to enjoy their favorite sports because they are priced out.
Owners should be role models too. After all, what would their franchises be worth if no one came to see their teams play? They should set a good example for their employees and fans by acting responsibly, with character, determination fairness and passion. All the attributes they expect from their players on and off the field.
I say we can never have enough heroes in America. The hard part is finding real honest to goodness ones.
Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and writes frequently for Fox News Opinion.
Former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush