November 19, 2023

I attended a football game 20 years ago where I ended up in the middle of a fight in the stands.

I didn’t start it…read on so you’ll learn why I couldn’t have started it in this lifetime (or multiple lifetimes) …but it illustrates the ultimate lesson about why misplaced hero worship rarely (if ever) pays out.

Not just in terms of monetary gain…but in terms of any gain at all.

So…the New York Jets (my team…I’ve lamented about them too much in the past…and you can read this for some background if you’re not sick of me whining about what a cursed team they are)…were playing in Washington D.C. on a Monday night (I actually travelled to D.C. to watch my putrid team on a weeknight).

How dumb am I?

I am more a martyr than a fan.

I was with a group of Jets fans sitting in enemy territory…decked out in Jets colors…rooting against the home standing Washington Redskins (now renamed the Washington Commanders).

And I have no idea how to deal with “retroactive political correctness” …so I’ll just call them “Washington.” 🙂

Anyway, one of the Washington fans “called out” a Jets fan who was wearing the jersey of his favorite player…and said something not so complimentary about the fan’s hero (and I’ll keep it PG):

“Curtis Martin Sucks!” 
(Curtis Martin is a hall of fame running back who played for the Jets at that time.)

That simple line…I’ll admit it was a little more profane and had some additional choice words than that…led to multiple fans from Washington and New York mixing it up in hand-to-hand combat (and thankfully no additional weapons despite there not being metal detectors at this stadium at the time) …leading to many of the fans being ejected.

The fact that the Jets lost in agonizing fashion made me silently wish, in retrospect, that I had gotten ejected as well.

But I did get my two cents in by yelling at the fans who were fighting, while they were being escorted out of the stadium:

“Do you realize that the players you are defending and fighting over will never move furniture for you?”

Another way of saying it:

Why are you investing so much into people who would never make an investment in you?

Hence, the downside of misaligned hero worship.

But it also emphasizes the upside of finding heroes who are heroes for the right reasons, not just for being gladiators on a football field.

A side note about wearing jerseys of current players on the teams we root for before I examine that upside:

It’s as bad an investment as getting into a fist fight on their behalf.

I know many fans wear jerseys so I am not shaming anyone.

But it is a little comical when you invest in a jersey of a player who spends all of 2 years (or less!) with the team.

Jerseys, especially in football, don’t age well.

They become instant collector’s items (i.e. rags) almost immediately.

That’s why I don’t wear jerseys of current players.

Now…jerseys of all time greats of the team you root for?

Bring it on. Those are the real heroes for me.

Being someone who equates age with wisdom, wearing a jersey of a player who is NOT on your team currently…while being someone who has a longer track record of success with your team… is more in line with that thinking.

You can accept my premise or not. But you will never convince me to wear a jersey of a current player.

And…as a bonus…wearing an old timer’s jersey will get you into fewer fights. 🙂

Those with misplaced hero worship, who get into fights, are usually younger and don’t even know the player you are wearing. That’s why it’s an insurance policy not to get your jaw broken.

What are the criteria for hero worship that makes sense?

It goes back to, and I’m saying this figuratively, “Would they move furniture for you”

That’s of course if you accept my assumption that moving furniture for someone is a supreme act of kindness and friendship.

Better: How have they contributed to you after you contributed to them first?

And not in a quid pro quo way…it needs to happen naturally.

Of course, a football player might have contributed a championship to you (obviously not any player on the Jets) …but that also included the same contribution to hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of other fans.

And you only contributed money for tickets.

How mass market.

And transactional.

With superficial rewards both ways.

Although if the Jets ever win a Super Bowl championship, I will be able to die much happier. 🙂

My heroes are all givers and contributors…with low arrogance and high humility.

How about yours?

They are also people who I know as much about their front stage as their back stage (i.e., both the good news that they show off to everyone and the messy stuff behind the scenes).

Not that I am looking for flaws or to knock them down; it’s more about admiring the “full person” before I go “full hero” on them.

You can admire anyone…but I caution you not to hang your hat (or jersey) on anyone before learning everything about them. Warts and all.

And don’t put all your chips down on people who you don’t know as a complete human.

If you choose your heroes flippantly, I guarantee you will eventually be disappointed.

If you choose them by a lifetime of work (theirs and yours) …and understand that heroes are human too… your heroes may even become your mentors. (See the P.S. for one example)

And then, you can wear their “jersey” proudly.



P.S. Having just completed our fifth Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp, the best one ever, I’d like to put Gene Schwartz in the category of “hero” (for me and many others) …a hero I was lucky enough to eventually call a personal mentor.

And he was far from perfect.

During the Bootcamp, we shared a video of Gene presenting at one of the largest direct response health publishers (Rodale Press) which enabled me to dive into this notion of warranted hero worship vs. superficial hero worship.

Some observations:

  • Gene had physical flaws that became strengths…and hidden in plain sight in the video. If you didn’t know about Gene’s health history, you might not know that he had a debilitating stroke which caused almost no functioning of his right arm. Watching the video, he waves his left arm throughout, with his right arm at his side and under the table, moving through his presentation with comfort and confidence. During the showing of the video during the Bootcamp, I stopped it in midstream so I could let everyone know why Gene was only using one arm…and I added that after his stroke, he learned to type with one finger with his left arm (on a manual typewriter I might add) and was as productive and prolific with his writing as ever before. That’s heroic.
  • Gene was emotional…as any supremely passionate and creative person might be…sometimes irrationally and with a “bite.” Yes, he had a temper, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Part of it was that he didn’t suffer fools gladly (although he loved teaching students, beginners included, his copywriting secrets)…but the other part was that he was a genius, a hero, someone to emulate…but always human. He wasn’t afraid to show his warts in public…he never hid them from view. I respected him as much as when he went off the handle as when he wrote a new sales letter that made millions. It was all part of a heroic package.
  • There was a healthy dose of ego during Gene’s presentation…including how he delivered world class copy by “assembling rather than writing” and how he never got writer’s block and why no one else should ever get writer’s block. Easy peasy for Gene Schwartz…not so much for us mere mortals. But he never crosses the line from confidence into arrogance…a nifty trick…that all my heroes possess…and it’s now a requirement for anyone I put on the hero pedestal. I submit these criteria for your approval…and you may have different ones. But I suggest you have some no matter what.
  • He went from hero to mentor when I contributed to him and his business “100-0” (100% with no expectation of anything in return) …and the returns were mammoth. Funny how that happens.

While Gene never moved furniture for me, he did a whole lot more…and ironically, I recall moving art work in his house during lunch one time.

I guess the hero worshipper can be a “schlepper” at the same time. 🙂

P.P.S. If you click here, you can add yourself to the waiting list for the sixth Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp.

And yes, that one will be the best one ever whenever we hold it.

If you would like to look at the new and improved page for Breakthrough Advertising click here.

It includes a bundle offer to buy Gene’s masterpiece along with the 500-page companion volume, Breakthrough Advertising Mastery…and opportunities to buy a unique Gene Schwartz swipe file…and also the Breakthrough Advertising Interviews (14 direct response Titans talking about how Breakthrough Advertising changed the way they think about copywriting and marketing).

The interviews also include the full video of Gene’s presentation from Rodale Press.

You can purchase the entire package here.

More heroes to be profiled in future posts…guaranteed…but today is Gene’s turn. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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