Every time a Tiger Woods or a Ben Roethlisberger gets in trouble with his family or the law, falling from public acclaim to disgrace, we all shake our heads in disappointment and wonder why Americans don't value more worthwhile figures as heroes.
Turns out Americans may have their heroic priorities straight after all.
A new survey has revealed Americans' top preference for a hero, and he's a lot closer to home than any athlete or musician. In a surprising upset, dear old Dad edged out Mom for the top spot. (Make sure to tell your mom you would've voted for her.)
Coming in at No. 3 was "husband" -- interestingly enough, "wife" didn't make the top 10 -- while No. 4 was "God/Jesus/Religious figure." More family members took up spots 5 to 9, and the first "famous" person didn't show up until No. 10 -- President Obama.
The poll of 1,000 adults, conducted in connection with the release of "Heroes for my Son," a nonfiction essay collection by New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer, broke down the results across age, gender and income lines, and the results were remarkably similar across the board, focusing far more on family than one might expect.
"For all our hand-wringing about how we're a society that's focused on celebrities and athletes, when you look at who were admire, Americans actually get it right," Meltzer told Yahoo! Sports. (Full disclosure: Meltzer and I have exchanged friendly emails in the past, and he's signed my copies of his books.) "And I love that we get it right. We understand there's a difference between 'being famous' and 'being someone to look up to.' Our truest heroes start at home. As it should be."
Ah, but what about those famous heroes? When asked about which famous people Americans considered heroes, the responses began to vary. Jesus Christ and Obama took the top two spots, followed by a host of presidents and Her Majesty Oprah Winfrey. The first athlete? Michael Jordan, who didn't show up until No. 11, where he tied with -- of all people -- Mother Teresa. (Strangely, Jordan was beaten out by Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie and Superman.) Peyton Manning and, oddly enough, Tiger Woods tied for the No. 2 spot among athletes.
"We overuse the word 'hero' all the time," Meltzer said. "But being successful is very different than being a hero ... I tell my son all the time: Being good at sports doesn't make you a hero. It makes you a good athlete. To be a hero, you need to do something beyond what your God-given gift is. Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali -- none of them are heroes because of their stats -- and trust me, they had amazing stats. They're heroes because of what they gave us beyond sports. Hard work ... Fearlessness to cross a color line ... Loving yourself for who you are. Those are traits to admire. That's far more important than simple success."
"Heroes For My Son," which tells the tales of heroes both famous and unknown, goes on sale Tuesday. For more information on the Heroes survey, and to get info on how to buy the book, visit HeroesForMySon.com.