When I heard the cyclist Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his titles and banned from the sport, I immediately thought of the kids and felt bad for them. Another hero just bit the dust.
Here we are, after an Olympics with no heroes like the old days. Of course if you’re a Nigerian kid, the reason is simple. No one wants a failure for a hero.
But, you keep hoping. What’s a man to do without hope? What’s a kid to do without heroes? You keep hoping even though you know that statistics suggest that even this dream will fade into a nightmare. No one has to preach to you about it. All you have to do is log on to the Internet and you discover another superstar was not all that super after all.
Doping is not exclusive to cycling. It’s everywhere. You go looking at the back of a sports institute and it’s likely you’ll find a cache of needles. You go back a few years and you remember Nigeria’s first Olympic gold medal winner, Chioma Ajunwa, stunned the world with her feat and upset a whole nation when she was discovered not to be a superwoman after all.
I feel bad for the kids today. In the scheme of life, sports and entertainment stars are always a kid’s first heroes. Boys normally go for the sports stars and girls find themselves adoring the entertainers. I look at the list of superstar athletes and entertainers and I don’t think I would have lined up for their autographs if I was a kid today.
Growing up, I had one hero whom I lived with. She was my mother. It wasn’t tough for her to be my hero because I saw how much she laboured to raise all eight of us. I always tell myself if I can be half as devoted to my kids when I have them as my mother was to us growing up, I would be the greatest parent for miles and miles.
Today, kids don’t have that luck because mothers are working tooth and nail from sunrise to dusk. Kids are getting shuttled between parents because divorce is suddenly hip.
But, a kid needs role models. I had a few. They were mostly sports stars and, of course, Michael Jackson when he was still black. I loved Muhammad Ali. I adored Glenn Hoddle, Innocent Egbunnike and Stephen Keshi. I was always fascinated by the sheer grace of Mary Onyali.
And, there was magic about most of the men and women that anchored the network news that I found captivating. It’s funny how life works. I’ve been blessed to meet most of the people I adored growing up. For the most part, I think I handled myself professionally, trying hard not to gush over them.
Once, I told Segun Odegbami, the mercurial soccer star, that I idolized him as a kid. He must have thought I was kidding because here I was, young but nevertheless the anchor of the most popular sports program in the country, telling a potential interview subject I idolized him. That was classic butt licking. But, when I told him the license numbers of the government-gifted cars of some of his teammates and how I hung around Best Ogedengbe as a boy living off Liberty Stadium road in Ibadan, he relaxed and told me a few stories from yesterday.
You see, heroes forget but kids don’t. Kids look up to their heroes. The heroes help shape their lives sometimes more than their parents. The heroes are important in their lives because they get hung up on heroes in their teenage years when they think, for the most part, that their parents are ancient and they need to be as hip as possible.
But, who do they look up to today? A star who may be found tainted the next time he pees in a cup? A superstar who loads himself up on drugs and alcohol before he or she gets behind the wheels? A politician!
When I was a kid, older folks pitied my generation because they felt they had a better time growing up. I don’t know what they’ll feel for today’s kids. It’s not fair. I can’t even buy jerseys with athletes’ names on the back for my nephews and nieces because I’m not sure if that athlete won’t be tainted tomorrow. I don’t want them thinking because they like an athlete who happens to be a pain; it’s okay to be a pain.
These days, I have kids who I mentor. Kids who call, ask for advice and look up to you. I have nephews, nieces and cousins who sometimes seek your opinion on how to navigate this maze called life. For them, you’re a hero. And, every time I’m around them, it’s like I’m in front of the headmaster again. I want to set a good example. But, it’s not always easy.
I have never been comfortable with being someone’s hero. But, the thing about life is that sometimes, you don’t choose roles, they choose you. And, you just have to figure out a way to be great and be responsible. Someone needs to get the message to today’s heroes.