This summer, millions have enjoyed watching the newest super-hero movies, "The Amazing Spider-Man'' and "The Dark Knight Rises.'' It seems like no matter how many re-creations of the long list of heroes, we never tire of seeing good win out over evil on the silver screen.
While watching the latest chapter of the Batman saga at a drive-in, under a beautiful, star-filled Sunday night sky, on the eve of what the NCAA described as "unprecedented sanctions" against Penn State, it occurred to me that we could use some real-life super-heroes in this sports-crazed world.
In the movies, you can usually tell who the bad guys are. They're the ones with the gruesome face masks, the legion of evil followers, or the scary lizard tail. In the real world, the villain could be the founder of a long-respected charity for underprivileged children. Heroes could turn out to be more human than we had ever imagined; tainted by a true criminal, victims of circumstance and their own unfortunate decisions.
We live in a society that places a huge emphasis on our sports figures. We celebrate and admire star athletes and coaches, putting them on pedestals and holding them to impossible standards. We believe that because they have great skills they must also have good hearts and admirable intentions. While some athletes do possess all the goodness inside that they display in the athletic arena, some decidedly don't.
How many times have we seen our sports heroes come crashing down in the wake of a scandal? Whether it's the demise of the image of the world's greatest golfer, the realization that some of baseball's best were on steroids, or the horrific tragedy at Penn State, it seems the more we believe in these sports stars, the bigger the fall when the truth comes to light.
In the movies, justice is delivered with a firm fist, usually without due process. Spider-Man doesn't cross-examine his archrival, and the Dark Knight doesn't put the brakes on the Batmobile while pursuing his nemesis.
In the real world, it's just not that simple. Good and evil come in unlimited shades of gray. Truth may not be found in one document or one news conference, but may trickle out a little at a time, over months and even years. Justice might not be leveled by punishing student-athletes who themselves were children at the time of the crimes; yet no degree of sanction can restore a victim's childhood lost.
In the movies, super-heroes can gain powerd through misfortune or tragedy; Spider-Man and Batman, for example, were both orphans. Recent months have taught us that poor decisions can have tragic consequences. We all have the responsibility to be champions: heroes who rise to the occasion for those who cannot defend themselves.
But, like in the movies, real-life defeat can be overcome. As much as we revel in the demise of our heroes, we also somehow hope for their redemption.
So now begins the next chapter. The nationwide emphasis on the issue of crime against children will hopefully spare future victims of unthinkable heartbreak, not just at Penn State, but everywhere.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.