On Heroes and Pedestals

Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, two of the sporting world’s biggest heroes, took some hits Sunday — and not just on the football field.

Newton had a disappointing performance in the eyes of many of his team’s fans. His fumbles that led to Bronco scores were basically the difference in the game.  And some criticize his abrupt departure from the post-game press conference as demonstrating a lack of sportsmanship. But if the turnovers could be excused as not entirely his fault, and the departure attributed to a competitive spirit, the “inexcusable sin” to many observers was his hesitation to dive after his second lost fumble. With the game on the line, it looked more like a calculated decision of self-preservation than the actions of the hero that Panther fans were counting on to win the day. The video of “Superman” not going after the ball could haunt Newton for years to come.

But although Peyton Manning was the “winner” of the game, his reputation took a hit as well. Even Carolina fans indicated that they respected Manning’s example and hard work ethic, and that it would not be the worst thing in the world if he went out with a championship. But many of those who were expecting a classy send-off from Manning were likewise disappointed in their “hero.” Not once, but twice, virtually verbatim in what could only be calculated language, the revered quarterback indicated in nationally broadcast post-game interviews that he was going to celebrate by drinking a lot of Budweiser that night. Regardless of one’s belief regarding total abstention from alcohol, the message that Manning sent to millions of elementary and high school fans was that when you win, you celebrate with a lot of drinking. How many lives may be wrecked as a result of those words, which were undoubtedly absorbed by millions of young men?  Then there was his half-hearted nod to “The Man Upstairs”, which many view as a flippant and irreverent treatment of the glorious God of the universe.  All in all, it just wasn’t quite the message you were hoping to hear from your “hero.”

So both quarterbacks were knocked off — or one might say, chose to “step” off — of their pedestals Sunday night. The lesson? Maybe they shouldn’t have been on those pedestals in the first place. American society has elevated athletes to a spot just shy of worship. Even Christian churches desperately latch on to any athlete who makes the merest claim to a profession of faith in Christianity, as if they were finding validity in their faith from the fact that a sports hero claims to adhere to it. And so desperate are they in their search to elevate these “heroes” that the faith of the athlete often does not receive the scrutiny that it should: is it a genuine faith? Are his beliefs orthodox? Does the fruit of his life confirm his claim to faith? For many, it doesn’t seem to matter. They are in too big a hurry to get the pedestal ready for their “hero.” Small wonder then, that so many of these heroes come a-tumblin’ down as quickly as they went up.

What many of us have forgotten amidst all this “hero worship” is one of foundational facts of Biblical theology: all men are sinners. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). “There is none righteous; not even one.” (Romans 3:10) The truth is, every man whom we elevate to the “pedestal” will one day fail us: whether he is a parent, a politician, a pastor — or the quarterback of a football team. The lesson is that we need to stop putting men on the pedestal in the first place. We should remember that we are all but men, and we can and will fail. If we haven’t yet, the day is coming. Every merely human “hero” WILL be knocked off of his pedestal. There is only One Hero who is worthy of our worship, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we need to fix our eyes on Him, and follow His perfect example. That doesn’t excuse us from trying to be good examples for others; we should always keep that responsibility in mind. But we should also realize that we will fail, and so will our “heroes.” And surely the constant awareness of our own frailties should make us compassionate towards those who likewise demonstrate their imperfections. Some men are in position to have their greatest failures broadcast on national television. I’m glad mine haven’t been, and I’ll bet you feel the same way!

So whoever you were cheering for last Sunday night, don’t give your quarterback too a hard time if he was knocked off of his “pedestal.” The thing is, he really didn’t need to be there in the first place.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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5 Responses to On Heroes and Pedestals

  1. Alan Brown says:

    Excellent commentary, Pastor Shawn. I was disappointed in both Cam and Peyton and their witness to so many impressionable young men and women, as well as adults. Another one of my sports heroes is Russell Wilson for Seattle (N.C. State graduate), who I believe is an outspoken Christian and strives to live the life. However, only a couple years ago he and his wife separated. Don’t know the circumstances, but it was a disappointment. It’s like we were discussing just the other week, you have become a spiritual mentor to me, but even a pastor is susceptible to stumbling and even falling. The only one we can truly count on to never disappoint us is Jesus, who proved it in HIs humanity by His sinless example. I’m thankful He is in Heaven, interceding for one such as I, who in my righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags.

  2. Karen says:

    I’m only watching from afar, but it seems to me that we should require those in positions of leadership and positions of fame to recognize their responsibility to live a life worthy of their calling. I understand that we are all sinners, but when a follower of Christ has a unique, premeditated opportunity to follow the admonition to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”, I believe Peyton Manning’s comments were calculated for another purpose. They did make me cringe and think, “Peyton, why didn’t you tell someone ‘I’m not saying that’…”

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Yes’m; I agree that is “flip side” of this, which is why I was careful to include the line: “That doesn’t excuse us from trying to be good examples for others.” This is especially true for those of us who are Christians, and who should realize the impact of our lives on others. But the other part of the problem is that Christians are often not being discerning enough about who, and how quickly, we elevate as role models. Thanks!

  3. Audie Brown says:

    Mr. Shawn, so glad you addressed the beer drinking, I was so disappointed in Manning, as you said , he needs to set an example for young people. One person said, he may not drink at all , it’s his sponser. There was a baseball player once not too terribly long ago whose name happened to be Bud, fans would raise their can and say, this buds for you. He informed them not to do that for he did not drink. He took a stand. Proud of you, Shawn.

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