Mia Freedman ignited a storm of controversy with her comments on the Today Show last week about Cadel Evans’ triumph at the Tour de France. If you haven’t seen it, take a look here:
Essentially she said that while Evans’ win was undoubtedly a fantastic sporting achievement, she took issue with the fact that people were calling him a hero and lavishing so much adulation upon him when there are “real” heroes like doctors and scientists who don’t get paid nearly as much money as Evans does, but save a hell of a lot more lives.
Ordinarily, I fall on that side of the argument too. Michael Jordan and James Hird are two personal role models that I admire for their incredible athleticism and dogged determination to win, but to call them heroes seemed a stretch. Calling someone a hero because they’re really good at controlling a round piece of leather strikes me as an insult to real-life, danger-disregarding, life-saving, heroes.
But on day ten of MIFF I saw the documentary Senna, about the life and death of Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, and if you ever doubt that sports stars can be true heroes, you need only look to Senna to realise that, absolutely, they can.
The documentary is remarkable for a number of reasons, but the thing that really struck was how it framed Senna’s life through the eyes of the ordinary Brazilian people, who were struggling with horrific social problems at the time and saw Senna as their sole national joy. His charity work was immensely important and educated millions of children, but his real value was that he gave Brazilians someone to cheer for, someone to be proud of.
I wrote down a quote from the movie which was said by an ordinary Brazilian, tears streaming down her face, at one of the public memorials after his death:
“Brazilian people need food, education, health, and a little bit of joy. Now that joy is gone.”
Sports people can be heroes, and while Cadel Evans perhaps isn’t as important to Australia as Ayrton Senna was to Brazil, you can’t say that he is undeserving of his adulation. Yes, nurses and firefighters are heroes, but that doesn’t mean that sports people can’t be too.