Valuing realness over celebrity

My parents recently brought down some of the last relics of my childhood.

In this case, it was a hodge-podge of memorabilia, memories, and, of course, sports cards.

A particular group caught my attention — a dozen or so signed cards of athletes who played in the 1970s, 80s or 90s.

In my childhood, sports cards were a big deal, and we would often go to sports card shows, sometimes in our local mall, sometimes in a convention center.

At many of those shows, you could purchase a card or item for a small price and receive an autograph for free. I remember beaming as Mike Henneman, the Tigers closer, made small talk with me as he autographed a couple of cards. I laugh as I recall how I fumbled through my response when he asked me simple questions.

As a kid, I was wide-eyed every time I met a professional athlete. I loved sports, and there was something special about seeing my heroes up close and personal.

All of that makes me think about recent shifts in my life, and the topic of the day — Simone Biles and her exit from a good portion of the Olympic gymnastics competition because of mental and physical challenges.

As I put more years in the rearview mirror, the prospect of meeting a “celebrity” isn’t that appealing to me. I believe that meeting an athlete or celebrity might make for a neat story with friends, but they really are just people like you and I: flawed, triumphing, struggling, succeeding.

I believe it’s healthy to assume that, if a celebrity somehow ended up at my table at lunch, I’d try to have a normal conversation and treat that person like a human.

Which brings me back to Biles. Much has been written about her decision to protect herself and not push forward with the Olympic gymnastics overall competition after facing what gymnasts refer to as “the twisties,” meaning they lose their sense of direction, of up and down, while in the air performing acrobatics.

My take on Biles is that it is refreshing to see an athlete admit she is human, that she rises and falls like all of us. That she is not a machine.

I remember when the Olympics started, there was so much fanfare around Biles. In one promo, the network had her walk around with a goat, as modern lingo dictates that GOAT stands for Greatest of All Time.

That’s an enormous amount of pressure on any person, even one more athletic and seemingly more composed than anyone else.

To me, it’s a refresher that athletes are not gods, celebrities are not gods, politicians are not gods. I believe there is only one true God, and he created us all in his image. Some of his creations are able to make great scientific discoveries. Some are able to lead inspirationally. Some are able to twist, turn, and flip like no athlete has before.

But they are all human, and all deal with the same sorts of things that we all do.

In Biles’ case, she confronted a challenge while on the biggest of stages.

I applaud Biles for showing her human side. I can only imagine how hard it is to “act” like everyone wants you to. From the time she rose to the top of her sport, she was expected to act and perform a certain way.

Being on top of your world but having to act the expected way time and time again can cause a person to crack. See Woods, Tiger and Spears, Britney.

Maybe we are heading into an era where people are more real with themselves and those around them.

Maybe we tamper our expectations just a little bit for those whom we look up to, and we start to see their flaws as strengths.

Maybe, through the process, just a little, we turn away from celebrity worship and extend both a healthy affection for those whose skills inspire us and healthy understanding they are people just like us.

It’s time we value realness and being down to earth.

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, Ohio, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, Ohio, and Review Times in Fostoria, Ohio. He can be reached at jeremyspeer@thecourier.com or jspeer@advertiser-tribune.com.


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