I’m a sports fan. Not a fanatic.

That would be my husband. Any sport. Any time. If he’s got a moment, ESPN is his go-to place to vegetate.

As I was getting ready to leave for work, Sports Center was on. I heard “He was found dead in his cell.”

It got my attention.

Aaron Hernandez, who’d been acquitted just days ago of a double murder in Boston in 2012, was serving a life sentence for the murder of a man in 2013. The reports said he hung himself in his cell.

He was 27.

How could someone with such skill and potential go so wrong?

He’d become a college football star at 17 at the University of Florida. He’d had problems there, but it was easier to focus on the great talent than the possible issues.

Drafted by the New England Patriots at the age of 20, he was already living the dream of many young men. Three years later, he signed a $40 million deal with them. Strong, athletically gifted, and rich.

Isn’t this the stuff of the American dream?

What many of us forget is that dream comes with a cost. For Aaron, it was the ultimate cost.

His mother said many of his problems began when his father died in 2006. A hernia surgery gone wrong. Unexpected. A huge shock to 16 year-old Aaron. His best friend and the one he loved most–gone.

Life became harder for him. Aaron, who’d always wanted to be liked, was finding ways to make trouble.

At 25, he became a convicted killer.

We live in a society that honors athletes as heroes. Their abilities on the field of play often outshine the challenges of daily life. Their marriage and family issues are not part of their allure. Those things can be excused if they win games.

The big names with the big bucks, the fine homes and the fancy cars.

Those things don’t equal contentment.

The world can give fame, fortune and fawning fans. These things last only as long as a person produces. When the next best thing, next greatest talent comes along, that person will be thrown to the curb. If a mistake is made or a sports star is seen in their brokenness, redemption is rarely offered.

The world can’t give is forgiveness, peace or hope.

People long for real heroes. Those they can aspire to be like and admire. Those whose names mean more than the next endorsement or title.

What we have too often are people who are hurting, just like we are. People who have problems, just like we do.

Choosing someone to emulate, to admire, should focus attention on character and integrity. Who they are in secret, as well as who they are before the media.

The only One who’s ever lived a life worthy of following is the One who lived a pure life. The One who lived to provide hope for others rather than being served Himself. Jesus was a true hero in every sense of the word.

My heart goes out to Aaron’s fiancee and his five-year-old daughter. They didn’t want to be the epilogue to this story. He was important to them. Not as a football player, but for the person they’d hoped he’d be.

It’s not having it all that makes you a hero.

It’s giving your all.

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