When Our Idols Fail Us

CULTURE | 6 mins

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I’ve seen it too. The boo’s and jeering as a broken man walks off the field for the last time. On Saturday, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the sports world when he announced his retirement just two weeks before the 2019 season was set to begin.

Luck described his decision to retire at the age of 29, with three years remaining on his current contract, as the hardest decision of his life. He explained it this way, “For the last four years or so I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab; injury, pain, rehab. It’s been unceasing and unrelenting. I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.”

Feels understandable, right? Like the fans who cheered for Luck and his team would empathize with a man who has played through pain for years and finally reached his breaking point? But that’s absolutely not what happened. Instead, an entire stadium booed him as the announcement broke. It made me sick.

How could they do this? How could someone look down on Luck, a man walking through what probably qualifies as the biggest defeat of his life, and choose to make it worse? And then I came to a startling realization—the fans in Lucas Oil Stadium thought they were reacting to bad news about their star quarterback. They were focusing their anger and disappointment on him. But I actually think what they were feeling goes much deeper than a single football player. The fans were upset because Luck represents a truth they were forced to recognize, a truth none of us wants to face: their idol, their source of hope for the upcoming season, was just like them—a human being.

I’ve never been much of a football fan, but I knew of Andrew Luck. The boy wonder of Stanford University, the 1st round draft pick in 2012, successor to the throne of Peyton Manning. The athlete who would complement his opponents on a job well done after being tackled. The years of injury, playing through the pain and still achieving success—the tenacity and sheer grit. I’m of the belief that we watch sports because it’s an arena where regular people, those who’ve come from circumstances such as ourselves, can achieve a level of greatness we all aspire to reach. These athletes turn into idols that we adore because they represent what we all hope to become—successful overcomers and champions.

But now Andrew Luck reminds us of a startling reality. What does it mean if the best of us are just like the rest of us?

I never idolized Luck, but I have always idolized love. For as long as I can remember, my hope has been set on a wife that would love me and make everything OK. One day I would slip a ring on her finger and know that my searching would finally be over. I’m twenty-five years-old. And still single. My all-encompassing hope in love has failed me quite a bit. I’ve had my heart broken and wondered why no one else seemed to grasp the weight of the tragedy like I did. Yet isn’t this what we do with anyone or anything we idolize? We are all hoping that in time and with enough persistence something or someone will finally fill in the blank of our lives—a marriage, a job, an income level, a child, a championship, a car, a number on the scale. Honestly, and don’t give up on me when I say this, it all reminds me of the Ten Commandments.

If you’re unfamiliar with Charlton Heston or Dreamworks Animation, the Ten Commandments were ten standards of living that God gave his people after rescuing them from Egypt. They’d been slaves for 400 years. You can imagine what that does to your psyche and worldview. So to help his nation re-establish themselves as a free people, God handed down these ten commands.

The first one on the list (so you know it’s important), is “Don’t have any other gods before me.” To be honest, that used to make me laugh. I pictured an insecure God who couldn’t handle not having the top position in my life, so he commands it. But I see it much differently now…and it’s not near as funny. What if that initial command was less a directive and more a warning? It’s almost as if God is saying, “Hey David, everything else is going to fail you. I don’t want you to go through the heartbreak of realizing I was right about this.” I’ve fallen in love with human beings and idolized things made by people that were ultimately going to fail me, and walked through gut-wrenching pain because of it. The girls I hoped to marry, the dreams I chased and didn’t achieve, they didn’t mean to hurt me. But they were given access to that pain point in my life because I elevated them to a space they weren’t supposed to occupy.

I’m not saying that falling in love is a pursuit that only holds disappointment or that being a sports fan makes you shortsighted. One day you may get married to the love of your life, and I honestly hope you get to experience your team winning the Super Bowl. But when we find our heart broken over a decision—from a loved one, a boss at work, or your favorite athlete—it might be helpful to reassess what space they occupy in your life.

People are awesome—and they will always let you down. Even Tom Brady has lost a Super Bowl…or three. The blank in your life wasn’t meant to be filled by any human or anything they can offer…and God wasn’t being narcissistic when he insisted on being the sole occupier of that space. Turns out, it’s for our good and protection.

Written by David Chimusoro on Aug 27, 2019