Pistorius: Olympic hero to monster?
From where I was sitting in London, the Olympic flame was just behind Oscar Pistorius. I remember watching him nervously getting ready to run. He wobbled a little as he started. Then came the chills. Mine.
Definitely remember the chills. And the feeling that with Oscar Pistorius, the first amputee to run in the Olympics, history was improving, advancing. The acceptance of a man without legs sprinting in the Olympics, of all places? I remember the feeling of watching humanity advance.
After Pistorius’ first race in London, I asked Canadian runner Daundre Barnaby about the feeling some people had that Pistorius had an unfair advantage, as if his legs were bionic or something.
“He’s human. He’s human,” Barnaby said. “So it doesn’t matter. He’s human just like the rest of us.”
Well, if it turns out that he murdered his girlfriend, then he’s not like the rest of us. He will have gone from hero to human to monster in about half a year.
On Thursday, Pistorius was charged with killing Reeva Steenkamp, a model and law school graduate. She and Pistorius had appeared in public together and were a beloved celebrity couple in their homeland.
The pictures coming from there now show billboards of Pistorius already coming down. And Pistorius himself is shown in a gray hoodie, face covered, head down, led from his home by police. That dreaded image could be the new lasting memory of Pistorius.
These are just charges at this point. Reports are that Pistorius says he was startled in the night and shot what he thought was an intruder.
He lives in a heavily guarded area, a complex with a 10-foot wall and electric fence. And South Africa does have a high level of violent crime.
But police also have said they’ve been called to his home on domestic issues before. And, in 2009, Pistorius was arrested for assaulting a woman after slamming a door on her. He spent a night in custody, but charges were dropped.
The biggest thing here, of course, is that a young woman is dead. But Pistorius was an international symbol.
It’s just impossible to get your arms around something like this. Your mind spins.
But first thoughts are about athletes not being equipped to handle hero status. Even if Pistorius is found not guilty, he has had domestic issues, and during the Paralympics, he actually griped that a runner who had defeated him had an unfair advantage with more advanced artificial legs.
We want sports to make us feel a certain way, and that involves believing in the athlete himself. Lance Armstrong was a hero for humanity, too.
Few things in my career set me off the way Pistorius did at the Olympics. A man from South Africa, born without fibulas, then subjected to exclusion over his disability. And there he was, running in the Olympics, which are all about inclusion.
He’s not going to be that symbol anymore. He’s not the Blade Runner anymore. When a woman is dead, though, it’s just too shallow to complain about being let down again by an athlete.
Do sports build character at all, or was that just always a myth? Maybe people have to focus so much on their sport, their body and themselves now that they aren’t brought along socially, mentally, emotionally.
I don’t know. There are still good people in sports, and bad people, and monsters. Just like everywhere else.
This definitely says something more about guns and violence. The New York Times quoted Adele Kirsten of Gun-Free SA, an anti-gun organization, saying that the shooting could have been avoided.
“The idea that you have a gun to protect your family against intruders; ... the data doesn’t bear that out,” she said. “What it tells us is that having a gun in your home puts you and your family at risk of being shot.”
Look at Steenkamp’s Twitter page. Yesterday, she retweeted a person's message: “WEAR BLACK THIS FRIDAY IN SUPPORT AGAINST RAPE AND WOMAN ABUSE.”
She responded to someone else’s tweet with this: “That sounds amazing! Wow that's what it's all about! It should be a day of love for everyone :) may it be blessed!”
And she also tweeted a message about Valentine’s Day: “What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???”
Like I said, the head still spins. Nothing is sorted out. But I’m thinking about that Olympic flame behind Pistorius. Meanwhile, another light is extinguished.