The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK


March 30, 2013

It's OK to have sports heroes

ENID, Okla. — A reader recently, via Facebook, took exception to a column on these pages following the death of former Sooners quarterback Steve Davis, who was killed in a plane crash earlier this month.

The reader felt the columnist was wrong to refer to Davis as a “real-life hero.” She further postulated the columnist was of the generation “that put too much emphasis on sports, thereby creating Penn State, Steubenville and the likes.”

She was referring of course to the horrific child sex-abuse scandal involving former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky, that also led to the ouster of longtime Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno shortly before his death. The other reference was to the equally horrific rape case involving a pair of high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio, where the convicted rapists, not only raped a nearly unconscious young woman, but used social media, and their cell phones, to provide live coverage of their crimes to the delight of their peers.

Both events are equally appalling, but can you seriously place the blame for these events on there being “too much emphasis on sports?”


Sure, sometimes we go overboard in calling our sports figures heroes and sometimes we put them on a pedestal. But Steve Davis was hardly Ray Lewis or Dennis Rodman, a pair of professional athletes with some serious questionable character issues.

If there was a player that a young person could look up to, it would have been Steve Davis who lived an exemplary life, was an ordained minister before coming to Oklahoma, and from all indications, carried himself in just such a fashion throughout his incredible collegiate career that saw him lead OU to two national titles and a record of 32-1-1 during his tenure as quarterback.

The reader went on to note men and women have died fighting for our country who are the real heroes. There is no denying that.

But one must also recognize the era in which Davis played. It was a serious time of upheaval across our nation.

The early-to-mid 1970’s were fraught with social strife and disdain for our military coming out of Vietnam was rampant. The mantra back then was “if it feels good, do it,” but Davis appeared to eschew such behavior and notions and became somebody who was worthy of, and accepted the responsibility of, being a good citizen.

On the flip side, Sandusky at Penn State was an evil person who took advantage of his position to commit his crimes. The fact he continued to get away with it for so many years was a result of a systemic problem within a program that was led by somebody who oversaw the athletic department by controlling it like a fiefdom.

The Steubenville rapists were just incidentally football players. This case was truly an indictment of society as a whole, where young people feel there is no consequence for their behavior, emboldened by what they see on so-called “reality TV” who live their lives through social media, while their parents – if they are in the picture at all – are intentionally oblivious to what is happening around them.

The tragic and repugnant situations at Penn State and  Steubenville were not results of too much emphasis on sports. They were the result of something far greater: Evilness and a vacuity of morals.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at

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