Wanted: Real Heroes

Where have all the heroes gone?

By heroes, I don’t mean the ego maniacs gassed up on arrogance and steroids that have commandeered the grassy fields and hardwood courts of sportsdom—nor the testosterone terrors and the cosmetically enhanced Aphrodite-ees prancing across the silver screens—nor the intellectual pigmies who have seized the music industry and hold it hostage with the vomit of lyrical language unfit even for the sewers from which it was spawned. I refuse to call this cultural garbage of infantile behavior, obscene language, gangster attitudes, outrageous bling-bling, and immoral lifestyles heroic. Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you want, but I cannot accept these damnable depictions as worthy of patterning my one and only chance at life on this planet after.

Where has integrity and character gone? In what dusty trunk have we packed away morality and honesty? Under what rock has honor been placed? What has possessed us to call evil good and good evil? All these questions beg for an answer in our narcissistic “me” driven culture.

Heroes are real people with values worth fighting for. I grew up with a hero birthed in a moment of crisis at a football game surrounded by sixty or so thousand people. He was christened with that mantle forty rows up in the north end zone of Bryant-Denny Stadium, and as long as I draw a breath I will never forget the lesson I learned that day.

There among the rabid fans of Alabama football sat my family—my father, my mother, my brother, and me. Our section was filled with the Crimson and White faithful, all cheering for the same team, but not giving allegiance to the same set of values and beliefs. Directly behind us sat a man who had drank a bit too much Coke spiked with something he didn’t buy from the Bama concessioneers. His liquor laced-brain soon slipped out of gear, and his mouth fell open with a torrid of some of the most colorful cursing my ten-year-old ears had “never” heard.

If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget what happened next. My father stood up, turned around, and looked this belligerent drunk straight in the eyes and without blinking said, “This is my wife and these are my sons. I will not allow you to speak like that in their presence. Sit down and shut up! Now!” The man sat down and never said another word.

In my eyes, my father became ten feet tall. It was a holy moment, because there in my fifteen dollar seat I was introduced to, and awed by, an example of real heroism. A hero stands up for what is right—not for what is accepted or allowed. A hero stands when it is inconvenient, impractical, and often not popular. A hero stands up because what he or she believes in is more than a belief—it is a core value worth fighting for and worth dying for.

My dad did not create a spectacle and he did not make an empty threat. When he stood, he was committed to doing whatever was necessary, no matter the cost, to accomplish what he believed in. Only two people heard him speak that day—me and the drunk guy, and the message was loud and clear. It was not the words he spoke that still ring in my spirit, but the conviction of his character exemplified in the midst of a crowd who could have cared less.

Heroes stand out in the crowd. They stand apart from the crowd. And…often a hero must stand alone, even in the crowd.