From Hero to Villain

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Full disclosure: I’m not that bright. I thought that the 30 for 30 film “Slaying the Badger” was two hours long; so imagine my surprise when it ended after ninety minutes. I found myself with thirty minutes to kill so I decided to finally watch the 30 for 30 episode about the 1996 Olympic bombing.

Part of the reason I had never bothered to watch it is because I kept forgetting about it. Another part is that I was afraid that it would dredge up old memories… Bad memories.

I live just North of Atlanta and I had planned on going to Centennial Olympic Park the weekend it opened–one week prior to the start of the games, but my plans were changed for me. Now you know why I never make plans; not even years in advance. The only other time that worked for everyone involved was July 27, which was the day the bomb went off. Needless to say my plans were changed.

Again.

At work that morning I listened to the radio, hoping beyond hope that the park would reopen in the afternoon. I was beyond angry; for various reasons. I was also tremendously sad to hear that people were injured and killed. There were any number of people who thought Atlanta was a bad idea idea as a host city, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted this.

Later on, reporters started talking about a security guard named Richard Jewell, who was the one who first spotted the knapsack containing the bomb. He quickly started telling people to get away, and if not for his efforts many more would have died or been injured. It seemed that we had found ourselves a real hero.

As so often happens, things started to turn. A few days later the FBI made Jewell suspect number one. Background checks were made, and some of Jewell’s former employers had unflattering things to say about him.

The next thing you know, the media is camped out in the parking lot of the apartment complex where Jewell was staying with his mother; and law enforcement followed him everywhere. At one point he was brought in for questioning under the pretense that the FBI wanted him to make a training video. I still cannot believe he fell for it.

Eventually, he asked to speak to a lawyer, to which the investigators replyed: “Why do you need a lawyer? Did you do it?” Yeah, it all seems like a bad TV show, but this was far too real.

Richard Jewell had gone from hero to villain faster than anyone I can remember. He was the subject of incessant media speculation, and he became a punch line on late night talk shows. His life was made a living Hell. The race was on to interview anyone and everyone who had the slightest contact with Jewell. Yet, through it all, I never once thought he was guilty.

Eventually, the FBI stated that Jewell was no longer a suspect, but no one seemed to be buying it. In the court of public opinion he had already been declared guilty, and that’s all that really matters.

We all saw the “Person on the Street” interviews: “If Jewell isn’t guilty, why were government agents searching his property and towing away his truck?” “If he didn’t do it, why was he taken in for questioning?” “If Jewell is an innocent man, why do the media keep saying he is the bomber?” And so on, and so on, ad infinitum.

Even after Eric Rudolph was convicted for the crime a few years later, there are those who still believe that Richard Jewell was the Olympic Park bomber. I have nothing to back this claim, but I am almost willing to bet that the majority of those who think Richard Jewell is a bomber also think that OJ Simpson is not a murderer.

Sherlock Holmes famously said: ” Once you remove the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth.” I unfamously say: “Some people would rather believe a convoluted lie than a simple truth.”

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