My Heroes Have Always Been Human


Kobe Bryant in an NBA game in Milwaukee. Photo by Callen Harty.

We live in a world in which no one can be a hero anymore. There is always something problematic about those who are admired by others. There is always a past, a mistake, a misstep of one sort or another, a major sin perhaps, or something for which forgiveness cannot be offered. The problem with putting people on pedestals is that they are human; the pedestal can break, and the bones come crashing down into dust.

It is understandable that sometimes people cannot let go of their disappointment or deep hurt. It is an incredibly difficult thing to do. As an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse I understand that the adulation of Kobe Bryant upon his death can feel jarring. He was accused of rape in 2003. Although the case against him was dismissed when the victim would not testify, he settled with that victim out of court. Are we supposed to just forget that now because he and eight others died tragically?

For me, as difficult and complicated as it is, the answer is yes. I believe in the power of forgiveness and while I understand it doesn’t work for everyone, it was essential for me to move forward in my healing from years of abuse. I also believe in redemption, in the idea that people can change and learn from their mistakes, and even their worst sins, and become valuable members of society. This doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten what happened to me or that I believe it was okay; it simply means that I believe that humans are capable of spiritual evolution as much as physical evolution. I believe that all of us are worthy of love, even those who have traveled to very dark places. Those individuals may need even more love than most of us.

None of us are without fault. How can I ask others to forgive my past offenses if I hold on to all the offenses against me, if I hold on to offenses against others whose stories I do not even really know?

This is incredibly difficult. The last day I have been torn about Kobe Bryant. I believe we give too much adulation, fame, and wealth to sports (and movie and music) stars simply for doing their jobs, and those who have a natural talent at those jobs we elevate to  superstardom. Is it deserved because they bring greater wealth to the team owners, because they bring a championship to a city in some form of tribalistic competition? It is hard to acknowledge the tragic death of a superstar while still recalling the terrible things that person may have done in his life. It is especially hard when that superstar also did a lot of great things in his life, perhaps as a form of penance for those moments when he did not live up to his elevated status. Heroes have more moments when they are human than when they are heroes.

What I keep coming back to is this: Heroes come from the same families, cities, and culture that the rest of us do. They are as human as we are, and every one of us has failed at one point or another or often–but that doesn’t mean we cannot redeem ourselves. If a person has paid for their sins, if they have turned their life around and contributed in positive ways, can they be forgiven? I cannot say that I have done no wrong in my life. I have also done many good things. When I die, is it fair to hold my humanity against me? I believe that if we are to do that to others, then all of us fail in the end.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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