Last week I attended the NBA’s Enrichment program, hosted by David Aldridge. Many influential speakers were present. This included basketball hall of famer Jerry Colangelo, and Grantland’s basketball genius Kirk Goldsberry. But the person who stood out the most was Jason Collins. Incredibly intelligent and full of humor, Jason Collins was astonishingly forthcoming about his NBA experience as a homosexual male. His candidness touched everyone’s heart.
Like Collins, Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon) has thrust herself into the limelight as a voice for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. ESPN, much to the disdain of some of their audience awarded Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at their yearly celebration, the ESPYs. Caitlyn Jenner has been dubbed a hero. Around the nation, media outlets are raving about her. Still, in private conversations Caitlyn is being dragged through the mud, many Americans incapable of seeing past their own prejudices. “She didn’t deserve it”. “There were other people much more courageous than her”. “Caitlyn is no HERO”. Those are only a few of the damning sentiments that have been uttered about Caitlyn Jenner, both on social media and in private conversations.
Still undecided on the legitimacy of Caitlyn’s heroism, my thoughts turned to my childhood. Saturday mornings I woke up before my Grandmother; rushing downstairs I grabbed a plain white box of rippled potato chips and a glass of chocolate milk, the breakfast of champions. I couldn’t miss that week’s episode of X-Men. My favorite character was Cyclops. He uncontrollably emitted red beams from his eye, capable of leveling a city. In order to control this power he had to wear special lenses, allowing him to see without inadvertently destroying something. Cyclops was my hero. As a child I had to wear bifocals, so I could relate to Cyclops. I had a problem with my eyes too. Seeing him cope with his ailment helped me cope with mines.
Dad. Mom. Batman. Superman. Ironman. Spiderman. Wonder Woman. We all have heroes. Heroes are the people we admire, finding strength in their courage against seemingly insurmountable odds. Cyclops is my hero, but you may prefer the Incredible Hulk. Does that make your choice of hero any less valid than mines? No. So, who are we to say that Caitlyn Jenner is not a hero? Like beauty, heroism is in the eyes of the beholder. Caitlyn is inspirational to an entire community of people, desperately carving out their place in a world of incognito hate. Her heroism is not for us to judge, only to witness.