Oscar Pistorius arrested: the sporting world dealt another blow

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Oscar Pistorius, seen leaving the Boschkop police station, has been found not guilty on charges of murder. (AP Photo)

Tragic. That is the only way to describe the news out of South Africa that double-amputee sprinter and six-time Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius has been charged with the alleged murder of his girlfriend.

It is alleged that he shot his 30-year-old model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, four times, including once in the head.

Initial reports stated that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp after having confused her for a burglar. Police have since denied that is the case.

The man known as ‘Blade Runner’ made history in London last year by becoming the first dual leg amputee to compete at an Olympic Games.

He was idolized by many in his country and had a legion of fans around the world. Today, they will all be both shocked and horrified.

At this stage, Pistorius stands as an accused man.

Only the passage of time will give us the full story and it is a story that will fill many hours of air time and countless centimetres of column space.

As is always the way when a high profile individual is involved – especially one from the sporting world – in such a crime the media fall-out and publicity will be substantial. Some may say overkill, if you will pardon the terminology.

Depending on the outcome, Pistorius has the potential to go from hero to zero and the fall, should it happen, will bring with it an added dimension: that being that he is an elite level, well-known sportsman.

What Pistorius has been charged with is a crime that happens countless times around the globe on a daily basis.

In his homeland of South Africa murder is rife with the city of Johannesburg having one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world.

Nearly all of those deaths will never be heard of beyond South Africa’s borders. Indeed, some in the country itself will receive only scant coverage. The Pistorius case will be a glaring exception.

The reason is obvious – his celebrity.

That will fuel the public desire to know what happened, no matter how ghoulish it may turn out to be. It is a sad product of celebrity in our society.

And sport feels it more perhaps than any other sphere of life when something like this occurs. The most famous – or infamous – case is that of O J Simpson.

The famed record-breaking NFL quarterback was the centre of world attention for many months after he was charged, and then found not guilty in a criminal court, of the 1994 murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her partner Ronald Goldman.

Simpson was later found guilty of their wrongful deaths in a civil court. The Simpson case stands at the top of myriad serious crimes conducted by high profile athletes.

Two other NFL footballers over the years have been charged and found guilty of first degree murder.

Hundreds of other sportspeople worldwide have been found guilty of crime – some minor, some major. Each one of them has normally resulted in a degree of sorrow from the fans that adored and followed them.

One of the reasons that there is such an outpouring of emotion when it comes to crimes committed by sportspeople is the feeling of ‘ownership’ that the fans possess.

Movie stars and music legends commit the same crimes but the effect is usually not felt in the same way.

Sport is different because the fan has invested himself in the individual.

The fan has actively followed the individual concerned, sometimes for years. They may have paid to watch him or her perform live.
They follow their every sporting move – and often those away from the field of play – through the media.

Sportspeople have the ability to be looked upon as a distant relative – a second cousin from your mother’s side.

Fans invest in sport, and not just financially. They take these people into their hearts and minds. Some almost use them as a personal biorhythm – they do well and I’ll do well.

The fan is uplifted when his or her hero or team performs well. It rubs off. Sport connects the participant to the follower like few other things in life.

When your corner shop is forced to close due to economic hardships people might not like it but they let it go.

If their football team is on the brink of closure or relocation, the masses mobilize. It is again that feeling of ownership.

One can argue the pros and cons of such a psychological connection with our sporting heroes but there is no escaping that it exists.

And the current Pistorius case will be testament to that. He was potentially due to garner an even bigger fan base here in Australia next month as he was scheduled to race in Sydney and March.

That will no longer occur.

Indeed, Pistorius may well have run his last race. Time alone will tell. But, regardless of how things play out, one thing is certain. A young lady is dead.

She deserves our heartfelt sorrow too.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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