Friday, February 22, 2013

How High The Pedestal?

Unless you've been living under a rock these past two weeks, the world has been enthralled with the bizarre case of the alleged murder of Reeva Steencamp by Oscar Pistorius (aka "The Blade Runner") in Pretoria, South Africa.

Mr. Pistorius has been charged with the premeditated murder of his girl friend, a well known model in S. A., on the night of Feb. 14. The key word in the charge of course is "premeditated"!

According to Mr. Pistorius, he was awakened by a noise in his bathroom. Sensing the presence of an intruder, he made his way toward the bathroom with a firearm (CCN's Piers Morgan will have a field day with this) and fired four shots through the bathroom door, killing the person inside. When Mr. Pistorius opened the locked door (using a cricket bat) he found the "intruder" to be Ms. Steencamp.

A bail hearing was held this week, which due to the nature and notoriety of the case, became the first stages of what surely will be a trial. I have followed news items in the matter closely as Mr. Pistorius has, through his remarkable courage and determination, overcome what most would consider, a debilitating handicap.

For those unaware, he was born with legs that had only one of the two bones normally forming the lower portion, the tibia & fibula. In his case, he did not fave a fibula which meant amputation of both legs half way between the knee and ankle. Instead of feeling sorry for the fate handed to him, he used prosthetic appendages from an early age to attempt to live a normal life.

Fast forward to the most recent Summer Olympic Games in London, UK. Not only did Mr. Pistorius compete as a Paralympian, but also as an Olympian (against able-bodied athletes). The "Blade Runner" nomenclature was earned as a result of his carbon fibre "blades" he employed as he competed in events on the track. There were many who felt that the "blades" did much more than level the playing field, they gave him an unfair advantage.

Needless to say, his exploits transcended the world of athletics. His story was front page news around the world and for many, a wonderful role model. In his native South Africa, to say he was a hero would be putting it extremely mildly.

Perhaps now you can appreciate the shock many are feeling as this charge of premeditated murder is brought forward. If this case does go to trial, which it appears it most certainly will, it will rival the OJ Simpson investigation and trial.

Before I put this into a larger framework, I must say, I'm intrigued by the questions the prosecution did NOT ask in the bail hearing. Clearly there should have been only two people in the house on the night of Feb. 14, Mr. Pistorius & Ms. Steencamp. I'm also going to assume that since it was during the hours when most couples would be asleep that the two were sharing the same bed. But, Ms. Stempcase might have awakened to go to the bathroom for personal reasons.

There were allegations by neighbours that the two were heard arguing. If that were true then for Ms. Steencamp to lock herself in the bathroom seems possible. Why would an intruder lock him/herself in the bathroom?

By all accounts, actually by only one, that of Mr Pistorios, he was alone in bed when he heard noises emanating from the bathroom. If that was the case, then any reasonable person in Mr. Pistoris' position would assume the noises were made by the person missing from his bed. Even if you felt, as was the contention of Mr. Pistorios, that he was somehow alarmed by an intruder, would you not, even with firearm in hand, approach the bathroom door by calling out to check to learn if it was the love if your life behind the door. Apparently Mr. Pistorios did not, assumed it was an intruder, and opened fire. What about a 911 call? Do they not have 911 in S. A.?

Whether Mr. Pristorius had a notion or not that the person locked in the bathroom was Ms. Steencamp, would you not call out to the person behind the door "hoping" to hear the voice of your companion? But apparently not only did that not occur, or surely, in his defense, Mr. Pistorios would have said so, the prosecution didn't even ask him whether that was the case.

As of today's writing (02/22/13) Mr. Pristorius has made bail, surrendered his passport and ordered not go to near his home (an active crime scene), any airport, to avoid witnesses in the case and to not consume alcohol. He is to reappear in court this June.

As sensational and confusing as this case is at this point, it's really just another instance of a highly recognizable athlete going down a path that tarnishes his/her image. Or does it? Do the personal transgressions of an athlete preclude his/her exploits in sport? Is Oscar Pristorius any less of a remarkable athlete on the track and a role model to millions of disabled people due to his involvement in this case? After all, the two are completely separate and to somehow link them seems on the surface to be somewhat disingenuous.

I referred to the OJ Simpson murder investigation and trial of many years ago. Whether you feel he murdered his wife or not, does that diminish his considerable accomplishments on the grid iron? I saw OJ play for the Buffalo Bills in his glory years. My Dad and I had season tickets for three years. The excitement OJ Simpson brought to a U.S. city devoid of much that makes an American city noteworthy was nothing short of miraculous. Now that Mr. Simpson has gone on to subsequent actions that seem to indicate real character flaws, do those heady Sunday afternoons at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, NY suffer in my memory. Actually, no, they do not! Do I feel Mr. Simpson is an example of some traits of the worst of our society, to that I might agree.

When the transgressions cross the line from everyday life to the sport the athlete plays, that's different in my book and of course the poster boy for that is one Pete Rose. He broke the only rule that was universally accepted by virtually everyone in baseball. He bet on the outcome of some of the games while he managed his team, and for many years, lied about doing so! Does that mean he should be excluded from the Baseball Hall of Fame? Yes, if that transgression is a criterion. Some say it is and others it is not. I feel it is! Are there rogues and scoundrels already enshrined in Cooperstown, NY. Yes there are but the lives they lived, as unsavory as they might be to some, were outside the foul lines.

For young people being made aware of this post, here's my advice. Admire the outstanding exploits of gifted athletes. If you wish to copy their on-the-field/court/ice/... technical skills, that's OK. You might also admire their work away from sport in trying to help others. But for role models, look to the people closest to you, your parents, your teachers, your coaches, good friends and anyone else who has your best interests at heart. They don't take advantage of you and their support is unconditional. There's never a price to pay for their love and friendship.

That said, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes but the only mistakes we make should be born of the best of intentions, not to deceive, exploit or take advantage of anyone else.

Role models are great! I had mine as a youngster and you will too. Make sure they're good ones!

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