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Our Society’s Hero Worship of Athletes

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I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2006, so I was fortunate enough to see Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene.
I remember watching Peterson’s first collegiate game against the mighty Bowling Green State University Falcons, standing (because you don’t sit in the student section) with a friend watching this specimen of athleticism. He was a great Sooner and is a phenomenal athlete and running back.

Countless stories have been written about the terrific football season he had last year, less than a year removed from major knee surgery.

As an avid fantasy football player, I owe Peterson a huge thank-you for carrying so many of my teams to victory in my fantasy football league.

Like a lot of people, I was saddened to hear about the death of Peterson’s 2-year-old son. As a father, that is the nightmare scenario. My stomach turns just thinking about what I would do and how I would react if I lost one of my girls.

The outpouring of support for Peterson was well documented throughout the sports world. I mourn with Adrian and the mother of the child for their loss. I weep for the loss of a child. However, Peterson is no hero, which the story surrounding his son’s death proves.

As the emotional reaction began to subside and the truth about Peterson’s behavior as a father began to surface, it became clear that Peterson, although a superstar athlete, was no hero.

The fact that Peterson had only met his 2-year-old son two months prior to his death reveals that Peterson does not deserve the status of hero that we are so quick to bestow on him.

Since this tragedy, further stories have surfaced that Peterson has had multiple kids with multiple women.

On one hand, I think we have set ourselves up for failure when we mistakenly translated incredible athletic ability with morality.

Some of our expectations for our professional athletes are unrealistic. I have written previously about how it is unfair that we placed so much weight and expectation on Tim Tebow in a blog that I wrote in January 2012.

On the other hand, this serves as an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities. Our heroes are not NFL running backs or other professional athletes.

Our heroes are fathers who take time to lead their households. Our heroes are parents who take the time to frankly talk about God’s purpose for spiritual health, sex, work and many of the other pressing issues of our day.

Our heroes are fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, and all of those who invest in one another and in all things that point to Christ.

It is OK to continue to watch Peterson, to root for him to do well and to have him on your fantasy football team.

What is not OK is to make Peterson – or any other athlete – something that he is not: a replacement for the true heroes in our lives.

Phillip Larsen is a member of West Metro Community Church in Yukon, Okla. He is the author of “Suit Up!” and he blogs at larsenphillip.wordpress.com. You can follow him on Twitter @plarsen7.