The immortals among us
Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Jim Brown, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt; these are just a few of some of the greatest athletes in modern history. Diehard sports fanatics tend to worship athletes like these, often elevating them to God-like figures whether they’re on the court, the field, the ice, or in the pool. The skills they possess give them “immortal” status among mere fans. Not only are they captivating to watch, they are an inspiration to young athletes everywhere.
The hard work and dedication required to succeed as a professional athlete is rigorous and life consuming. Playgrounds, gyms, and colleges across the nation are littered with countless hopefuls trying to achieve their ultimate dream. It’s a relatively small few who to go on to the next level. Those that make it to the top are the best of the best, those whose skills matched their obsessive dedication.
Since it is a select few who do make it, those on the outside often revere professional athletes as if they were religious icons. They become role models and are idolized by young children and aspiring athletes everywhere. These sports figures are put on a pedestal, and there are people who do everything short of literally worshipping them.
For some aspiring athletes, they don’t necessarily worship pro sports figures, but they do look to them for inspiration and hope to eventually reach that level.
One such athlete is Rico Wright, a defensive back for the Santa Monica College football team. “I wouldn’t say I worship any sports figure, but being a football player and just an athlete in general, it’s in my competitive nature to strive and be where a pro athlete is,” said Wright.
Wright also says student athletes shouldn’t worship pro athletes per se, but instead place importance on their accomplishments and hold them with high regard. “It’s become very common. We marvel at pro athletes and put them on a high pedestal,” said Wright.
Wright’s sentiment is shared among other student athletes on campus. While not being offensive to worship them as a type of demigod, they say a professional athlete’s high status and incredible accomplishments are a reminder of what they, as aspiring athletes, can achieve if they put in the required dedication.
Briana Mackey, a sophomore and current captain for the SMC women’s soccer team, is not bothered with fans that worship professional athletes. “I think having a favorite player, or team is a natural part of sports; you see people who play the fantasy leagues online, they build their team with all the people who they think are the best. It’s not offensive, it’s sports,” she said.
She does not personally have a certain team or athlete she idolizes. “I just play my sport. I respect a lot of players.” Los Angeles is perhaps one of the best places to visualize this worship of professional athletes. Teams like the Lakers, Dodgers, and Kings reside in the city and have gigantic fan bases. Taking a walk outside the Staples Center, home to the Lakers and Kings, is a reminder of how important sports figures are to the citizens of Los Angeles. Six statues stand tall and proud, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Chick Hearn, Oscar De La Hoya, and Wayne Gretzky. These athletes are heroes and idolized by many. The statues serve as a sort of means for fans and followers to come and pay homage to some of their top idols.
While athletes have a certain point of view on sports figure worship, there is also the religious side of things. Santa Monica College is home to many students who do not participate in sports, but are affiliated with religious and faith based clubs and organizations.
Sophomore Herminia Mazariegos is a member of the SMC Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She doesn’t have a favorite sports team or athlete she admires. “I personally think it’s not offensive for someone to have a hero or someone to look up to, but it becomes offensive if a person becomes too clingy to the point where they forget about who they are. I don’t think its offensive to religion; it’s not something that’s relevant to religion,” she said.
Garrett Haynes, also a member of the same church as Mazariegos, has a similar point of view. Aside from being an active member of his church, Haynes is an avid Lakers fan who uses his spare time to play basketball at the small court set up behind the church center. He doesn't idolize any particular player though as a deity type figure. "It’s just how sports are.”