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ISSUE 115 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 4/26/2002

Kirby Puckett strikes out with public, fans alike

By Ben Schleuss
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 26, 2002

I thought I knew Kirby Puckett. After all, I had season tickets for the Twins from 1987 through 1992. I watched him on local sport shows. I said hi to him as he dropped his kids off at the school I attended. I even played pool with him at a charity event. He was a hero, a role model, perhaps even an acquaintance whom I admired and strove to emulate.

On Feb. 20 his wife Tonya filed for divorce after having filed a police report weeks earlier alleging years of spousal abuse. This description of a violent, unfaithful husband could not coexist with the hagiography I had previously perceived as gospel.

So what are we to do when confronted with the fact that athletes are, more often than not, mere mortals?

Athletes are role models. That is one of those unfortunate truths that can be both beneficial and detrimental. I would love for my children to have the work ethic of Cal Ripkin Jr., but not the decision making skills of Mark Chamura. Everyone learns that their parents, our first role models, are human; for most people that revelation isn’t overtly traumatic. But athletes exist on a higher plane, buffered by the media and our desire for heroes. When they win; we win. When they fall; we fall, harder.

As fans we need to remind ourselves that our view of athletes is confined to a few hours within the field of play. We see them during those brief moments they are at their best. It is unfair for that exacting standard to be applied throughout the rest of their lives. None of us could forever live up to our brief moments of brilliance. Everyone has positive and negative aspects of their personality, but most people don’t have millions of people following their every move. If the spotlight were continually focused on our lives, how would we be viewed?

In an age when it seems that every public figure is ripe for a scandal, it is increasingly difficult finding someone to admire. Recently, religious and political leaders along with athletes have been toppled by their own transgressions outside of their traditional roles in society. The public outcry has focused on lies and cover-ups. But why do we continually evaluate these leaders on a criteria apart from their occupation? If you are looking for a role model, choose based on traits you wish to embody. Quite often the person with the best jump shot will not be the most qualified to be a moral compass.

I am certain on a number of facts about Kirby Puckett. He has raised millions of dollars for many worthy causes. He has been acknowledged by Major League Baseball on numerous occasions as a humanitarian and an example to other plaers. He was the catalyst of two World Championship teams. And Kirby Puckett is human. I'll be sure to remember that.

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