Are sportspeople heroes?

Cadel Evans with teammates

It’s not often you’re publicly abused before breakfast.  But that’s what happened after my Today Show appearance when I exclaimed that I didn’t understand the huge deal about Cadel Evans and thought the coverage of sporting victories was disproportionate. My skin is pretty thick but I will admit the abuse came as a bit of a shock.

Not to my husband. When I called him on my way into work, reeling from the complete slagging that was happening on Twitter, he said “What happened on the show?” and I said “Cadel” and he said “Oh no babe, you didn’t do your ‘sportspeople aren’t heroes’ thing, did you?”

Um, yes. I did.

I didn’t wake up on a hobby horse. I noted that Cadel Evans had won the Tour de France and I thought “oh, that’s nice for him” and that was about it.

My first hint that I was out of step with popular opinion came when the Today Show producer called to tell me about the topics for this morning’s What’s Making News segment.

“Karl wants to do the whole thing on Cadel.” What? The whole segment? Really?

Then, I watched from the make-up room as Karl called for everyone on the set, including Lisa, Dickie and Alicia at the desk, to rise for the national anthem to celebrate Cadel’s win.

There was talk of a public holiday.

And that’s when I started to become really baffled.

The rest is a blur, possibly a nightmare and certainly something I wish hadn’t happened because nobody needs to be called 500 different awful names before they’ve eaten their Weetbix.

This is our segment:

This was my general point:


Good on Cadel. I’m sure it was an achievement and great that he won. I’m not taking anything away from his physical sporting achievement. It’s impressive to be the best in the world at something.

But I’ve always had a problem with the way Australian sportspeople are revered as heroes and worshipped above every other profession.

To me, heroes are people who help other people or who somehow work selflessly to benefit others. Nurses, doctors, scientists working to cure diseases, those who work with sick people or disadvantaged people, fire fighters and those who risk their lives in wars or their daily jobs, those who volunteer… get the drift.

That’s my definition of hero. I’m not saying it should be yours.

Clearly, I am in the vast, vast minority here (I certainly know that after today having been called a dog, a bitch, unAustralian, a stupid, ignorant fool, told I should lose my job, fuck off and shut the hell up, go back to writing about lipstick……and that is not even the worst of it).

But sportspeople – who spend their lives honing their physical skills with vast support from sponsors and teams of support people – well, I don’t think the word ‘heroes’ applies to them particularly.

I think pursuing a life doing something you’re good at for the benefit of yourself is not heroic. It’s not a BAD thing, I’m not dissing Cadel (of course not!) but the idea that a sports person should be idolised because they can ride far or jump high or swim fast is, to me, a bit odd. I guess I’m just flagging the fact that if you do well in sport, the country and the media stop to worship you in a way that doesn’t happen to anyone else for doing anything else.

The abuse I received was instant and it continues, seemingly unabated. I have a pretty thick skin but by 8:15 I was in tears. I genuinely miscalculated the level of viciousness my comments (which I have made many times before) would provoke. My bad. Not for stating my opinion but perhaps for misreading the mood and the audience.


Many people have made the point that it’s great to have role models for kids to look up to, to encourage them to get on a bike or kick a ball. I agree absolutely. They’re certainly better role models than rappers or reality TV stars.

But I only wish other kinds of heroes would receive the same media and popular adulation, that kids could see that you could be wildly popular for helping others or doing something other than having a physical skill.

My husband explained to me that it brings people together and that this can’t be a bad thing. I guess. Things that make people feel good are important in a world of bad news. For that reason alone I can understand why it’s a good thing. And with the bad news that’s been around this past weekend, some good news is welcome.

But that’s not something I particularly understand either – I don’t feel closer to anyone or more proud to be Australian etc because someone won the most gruelling bike race in the world.

Anyway. I like to think I have a pretty good handle on popular opinion – not that I necessarily fall in line with it but I usually understand how it works. Not today though.

Two more things.

To those who are accusing me of being a killjoy, I would not have written this post of my own volition. I didn’t feel so strongly about it that I would have written it unprompted. It happened to be my Today Show day and I was asked my opinion and gave it.

Also, Cadel and other sports people are inspirational, strong, yep. We can celebrate them and should celebrate them – just like I celebrated when my cousin won an Oscar a few months ago. But I didn’t call him a hero.


If you strongly disagree with me, I would genuinely love to understand how sporting success makes you feel. Please don’t abuse me for not understanding it, I’ve had enough of that today. Still, I always have my mind open and am ready to learn about other opinions, this morning I was just expressing my own.

For a different view, check out Anthony Sharwood’s piece at The Punch here:

UPDATE: It’s 24 hours after I posted this and the reaction continues to astonish me. I had no idea that questioning the worship of a sports star could unleash such extraordinary vitriol. To those who have disagreed with me in a calm, civil way, I want to thank you. I have read much (not all) of the response. The Mamamia team have protected me from some of the most offensive abuse by deleting those posts so if you’re planning to leave that kind of comment below, save your breath because I won’t see it.

What I’ve learned from many of the responses is that ‘hero’ can be a subjective term. It may mean something different to you than it does to me. For many, it means role model, someone to look up to. Fair enough. I’m not telling you what to think or who to look up to.

My point was actually meant to be less about the word ‘hero’ than the disproportionate amount of media coverage and public adulation given to sports heroes as opposed to people who achieve equally amazing things in other non-sporting fields.

Comments on this post are now closed.