Humanity lives for stories of trial and triumph. We want the underdog to win, the homeless person to strike it rich, the geek to nab a beauty. We want Oscar Pistorius, a man with two prosthetic legs, to win Olympic races. And we want to believe that he killed his girlfriend by accident.
Oscar Pistorius is South Africa’s beloved “Blade Runner.” The athlete had both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday due to a congenital abnormality. Miraculously, he was able to defy the odds at the 2012 London Olympics when he became the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied runners by using carbon fiber prosthetic legs. His story prompted a fan base that spanned the globe.
The man exemplified trial and triumph. It’s as if he could do no wrong. Little did we know, his trials were only beginning.
At 4 a.m., Feb. 14, Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times through the bathroom door in his Pretoria, South Africa home. He claimed it was an accident; that he had awoken in the night and walked to the porch to get a fan and close his sliding doors. Upon returning, he noticed the bathroom light on and panicked.
Assuming Steenkamp was still in bed, the self-proclaimed “vulnerable” runner grabbed his 9 mm pistol and shot at the door. Moments later, he realized what he had done. Steenkamp, a stunning South African model and television personality, died that morning. She was 29 years old.
Pistorius was taken into custody, and has since been released on bail, but maintains that the incident was absolutely not pre-meditated. He’s devastated over the loss of his “beloved Reeva.”
The public was shell shocked. This was a man who the whole world rooted for, unconditionally. In some ways his journey to success felt like everyone’s journey. His supporters could barely wrap their minds around young Steenkamp’s death, a South African idol herself, and what it meant for the “Blade Runner.”
After working so hard and coming so far, could a man like Pistorius really fall from grace?
According to prosecutors, he’s already fallen. BBC Africa reported that on the second day of Pistorius’s bail hearing, a witness testified to hearing an altercation between 2-4 a.m. Then the person heard gunshots, female screams and more gunshots.
The officer on the scene also testified that he thought the bullets had been fired down, implying that Pistorius did have his prosthetic legs on and “adding weight to its case that the shooting was premeditated.”
We’ve been here before, torn between loyalty and reality. When Tiger Woods’ mistresses began crawling out of the fairways, everyone wanted to believe that the golf god would never betray his wife; or worse, his fans. We adamantly denied that Lance Armstrong would use steroids and made excuses for Michael Vick amidst reports of his involvement in dogfighting.
In much the same way, the world wants to believe that Pistorius didn’t murder his girlfriend. I know I do.
The New York Times reported that the runner had a tough childhood. His parents divorced at six. His mother died of a drug reaction when he was 15, and his relationship with his father remains strained. Not to mention the fact he has undoubtedly worked hard to prove himself as a runner without legs. Somehow, these circumstances make him feel more relatable, more human. There’s a likeability about him.
During his affidavit, Pistorius pulled at the heart strings of fans and speculators alike.
“I tried to render the assistance to Reeva that I could, but she died in my arms,” he said. “I am absolutely mortified by the events and the devastating loss of my beloved Reeva.”
The facts pull me to speculate why a person would shoot through the bathroom door without hesitation or why his sliding doors would be open if he feared intruders. Yet, the man pulls me to believe that a person with so much support and achievement wouldn’t do such a thing.
So far, it’s not enough to prove him guilty, and it’s not enough to prove him innocent, only enough to prove my own bias. It is near impossible to look at an athlete like Pistorius objectively, without wishing for them to triumph.
Even Reeva Steenkamp wanted to see the good in everyone, as documented by Twitter just days before her own death:
“Before you lift a pen or raise your voice to criticize, acknowledge people’s circumstances. You don’t know their struggles. Their journey.”
Carly Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.