Steph Martin
Steph Martin

Stephanie Martin, a writer and editor in Colorado, has 20 years of Christian publishing experience.

Pretoria, South Africa—The double amputee who made history during last summer’s Olympics is now in the headlines for a much different reason. Sprinter Oscar Pistorius, 26, is accused of killing his girlfriend in South Africa on Valentine’s Day.

Prosecutors said the murder was premeditated, but Pistorius denied “in the strongest terms” trying to kill model Reeva Steenkamp, 29. After a lengthy hearing, Pistorius was granted bail while awaiting trial.

Pistorius said he was “deeply in love” with Steenkamp, whom he’d been dating since November. His attorney said the sprinter shot at what he thought was a prowler in the bathroom.

In South Africa, which has high levels of violence against women, Pistorius was a rare hero respected by both blacks and whites. While the athlete’s legal case proceeds, sponsors Nike and Oakley have suspended their contracts with him.

A previous Nike ad called Pistorius “a bullet in the chamber.” Robbie Vorhaus, who advises companies about reputation management, said, “The problem is that so much money is pinned on human beings who, in a moment of passion or intoxication, can ruin their reputation in an instant.”

Cynthia Falardeau, whose son has a physical disability, described her joy at first seeing Pistorius run. “I saw him as a future superhero for my son,” she wrote. But her son put things into perspective by saying, “Mom, he’s just a man.”

Whether or not Pistorius is guilty, Falardeau added, there’s a lesson here. “Too often in life, we put people on pedestals. We set them up to fail. The reality is that, despite their seemingly superhuman performances, they are just people with their own sets of challenges.”


Discussion Questions:

  • What’s your gut reaction about what happened in this case? In situations where the facts are unclear, whom do you usually tend to believe, and why?
  • Did Pistorius deserve to be placed on a pedestal for his athletic accomplishments? Is there a way to recognize and honor people for extraordinary feats without turning them into superheroes?
  • Why do you think so many people who achieve fame and fortune end up experiencing spectacular downfalls? Is it a matter of pride? a matter of those people thinking they’re suddenly above the law? other?
  • What type of people do you tend to put on pedestals, and why? Think of a time you’ve realized that one of your heroes is only human: Did that change any of the lessons you’d learned from him or her? Did it change your willingness to idolize anyone in the future? Explain.
  • When have you put yourself on a pedestal, and why? What types of things bring you back “down to earth”?
  • What safeguards do you take now to protect your reputation? If you achieved great public success someday, what steps would you take to avoid great public failure?
  • Does it seem to you as if some people don’t face challenges—or at least not as many as you do? Explain. Do people have a responsibility to share their challenges with one another, in order to provide support and encouragement? What might that look like among young people?

Scripture links: Judges 8:22-27 (Gideon’s downfall); Isaiah 2:6-18; Matthew 23:8-12; Luke 18:9-14; Romans 2:1-8; 1 Peter 5:5-6.

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