Another hero bites the dust. I shouldn't be surprised.
I was in the third grade when the 1985 Chicago Bears team and its cadre of larger-than-life stars shuffled its way to a Super Bowl win. Since that time, I've been a loyal Bears fan. Unfortunately, when news broke that Jim McMahon, the dynamic quarterback of the 1985 Bears, had been named in a bank fraud lawsuit filed by the FDIC, I had long since given up expecting NFL players to behave like heroes.
Still, seeing McMahon in this light hurts. I wore a sweatband during every third grade recess touch football game because, to me, McMahon was the epitome of cool. Do you know what a chubby third-grader looks like wearing a sweatband in the middle of winter? Stupid. And now I see that McMahon, like so many others from the 1985 Bears team, wasn't worth my admiration.
Of course, the FDIC's lawsuit might turn out to be unfounded, but I doubt it. McMahon is just the latest in my string of Bears heroes to show me that being a good football player does not necessarily equate to being a good man.
The FDIC's lawsuit claims that McMahon neglected his duties as a board member of Illinois' Broadway Bank. McMahon apparently signed-off on a $28 million loan that ended up losing the bank $19.5 million. As a board member, McMahon was "grossly inattentive" to the bank's affairs. In other words, his most important contribution to the board was his name.
Gross inattention to a bank's financial affairs is bad, but I'll just add it to the list of misconduct by my former Bears heroes. There's the securities fraud case against former Bears receiver Willie Gault, the accusations of infidelity and drug use by legendary Bears running back Walter Payton, and William "the Refrigerator" Perry's alcohol issues and financial difficulties.
When I was in third grade, I saw these Bears as football gods. One by one, their derelictions have chipped away at my admiration for athletes. Because of them, I now try to watch Bears games for the plays and not the players. And, for me, that means some luster lost.
One of adulthood's sad truths is that all of us, heroes included, make mistakes and behave regretfully. I know, too, that mitigating factors blight the lives of my former Bears heroes. But there's a difference between addiction and fraud. And that's why McMahon's apparent nonfeasance is so disappointing to me.
Somewhere inside me I still wanted to be the third-grader who believed in heroes. The adult me knew NFL players are men just as flawed as the rest of us. Now that McMahon is falling from grace, I can no longer indulge that inner child.
And I'll have a hard time on Sundays this fall asking my daughter to watch the Bears with me. I grew up admiring guys who played football. I'd rather she grow up admiring folks who play fair and do right.
I just wish she could do both.
S. Alexander Cooke is a lifelong fan of the Chicago Bears - the team.
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