Not so hard to find one hero

  Sports heroes seem to be in pretty short supply these days.
  While those of us with even a smidgen of common sense realize it’s not wise to have our children latch onto athletes as role models, we also know that it’s bound to happen at some point. High-profile individuals who earn gobs of money and get cheered by millions are always going to seem more appealing than the grownups who yell at a kid to clean up his room, do his homework and take out the garbage.
  What’s dangerous about admiring strangers is that there is no way of knowing what they’re really like as people beyond the jock facade. The man who scores touchdowns on Sunday might be a wife beater on Monday, thief on Tuesday and drug abuser on Wednesday before deciding to begin preparations for the next weekend’s game so that he can again impress fans — especially the young ones — with his on-field exploits.

  There are certainly some good guys and gals in sports, but even they are really no different than the rest of us. They’re not gods or superheroes or bigger than life, just folks whose talents are more frequently put on public display than our own, or those of our accountant or crane operator neighbors.
  Still, we’re never going to convince young people to completely forgo the idolizing of star athletes. They’ll hopefully outgrow the practice before any truly bad habits form, but you can never be quite sure.
  So as long as athletic worshiping isn’t going away, the best thing we can do is try to expose kids to someone who is at least worth emulating in some fashion. I recently read of such a person, and what I find amazing is that she is still in her teens.
  As someone of more advanced years, I share a common affliction with others of my generation: I think of anyone significantly younger than I as a scatterbrain. That’s not fair, of course, or even totally accurate, but it’s a rite of passage — once upon a time, it was my age group getting ridiculed by our elders.
  However, a young lady named Codie Thacker has me rethinking my stance about today’s youth.
  Thacker runs cross country for Whitley County High School in Kentucky, but until a couple of weeks ago I had never heard of her. Presumably, she was equally anonymous to anyone who doesn’t follow prep sports in the Bluegrass State.
  Interestingly, what gained notoriety for her wasn’t anything she did on the course, but something she refused to do before one race even began.
  As is customary at all cross-country and track meets, Thacker was assigned a number to wear on her uniform prior to competing. This particular meet was an important one — it was a regional event that would determine some of the qualifiers for Kentucky’s state meet.
  However, when the starting gun sounded, Thacker was not among the participants. So what happened?
  According to a story that was first reported by an NBC television affiliate in Lexington, Thacker was unhappy with the number her coach had randomly drawn for her. Both she and the coach asked meet officials for a different one, a request that was subsequently denied. In response, Thacker voluntarily forfeited her spot in the race.
  But this was not simply the latest case of a sensitive female teen overreacting to a minor inconvenience. Many might disagree with that assessment, feeling that the wearing of the number 666 really was not any big deal.
  As a Christian, however, it was a very big deal to Thacker.
  In Christianity, 666 represents the mark of the beast. I’m paraphrasing here, but the book of Revelations essentially states that those who take the mark are turning their backs on Jesus by doing so, something no true Christian would ever choose.
  Thacker wasn’t being asked to permanently affix 666 to her person, of course, but that didn’t matter. She said she still felt uncomfortable about being connected to it in any form, so she made a choice that may have deprived her of immediate gratification, but spoke volumes about the strength of her faith and depth of her character.
  “I didn’t want to risk my relationship with God and try to take that number,” Thacker told station LEX18. “I told them to mark out my name because it makes me sick just thinking that my name is associated with that number.”
  Let me pose a question: How many of us would so unhesitatingly take such a strong stand, knowing it would be misunderstood — and probably mocked — by millions of others? My guess is fewer than we’d like to believe in these can’t-dare-to-rock-the-boat days in which we live.
  A columnist on Yahoo!Sports probably summed up what a number of people were thinking when he described Thacker’s situation as “one of the strangest cases of purported religious beliefs intersecting with athletic performance.”
  Why the need for the word “purported?” If Thacker wasn’t acting upon a genuine love of and respect for Christ, what possible reason would she have for not competing, particularly when she said she had been training for the regional since June?
  There was nothing at all strange about it. She was not proselytizing or involving any other runner in the matter, but merely following the decree set forth by her own religion.
  I am curious, though — would this same columnist have so cavalierly dismissed a religious-based action if the athlete in question been a practicing Muslim or Buddhist? Probably not, as I suspect he wouldn’t want to risk being called intolerant or a hater of other cultures.
  And the same query goes out to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association officials who denied Thacker a number change. They have since claimed that neither Thacker nor her coach made mention of the religious aspect of the request, but that seems highly unlikely.
  If Thacker was that adamant about not running with 666 on her jersey, why on earth would she fail to make the reason behind her decision expressly clear? Sounds to me like the latest example of public relations backpedaling.
  But one shouldn’t have to be a Christian to appreciate what Thacker did. Regardless of where one’s religious tenets lie, how can you not respect her willingness to stand firm for what she thought was right?
  In an athletic world filled with more and more muck, it’s refreshing to see a person with unwavering conviction about something so important in her life. There was no sugarcoating of the subject, no selling out for immediate public acceptance, no fear of negative responses.
  Are your kids still looking for an athletic hero that is worth imitating? Codie Thacker just made the search for one a whole lot easier.