Sports and Role Models... Are We Expecting Too Much?
I was talking to friend of mine the other day and in a round about way, we touched on the subject of role models and sports. He is a big Los Angeles Laker fan, and by extension, a big fan of Kobe Bryant.
I have been a Laker fan since I began to follow basketball. From the teams of West, Goodrich, Baylor, and of course, Wilt, I have been dyed in the wool Laker purple and gold.
I listened as those early great teams always seemed to fall short to the dreaded Celtics. I also listened on my little transistor radio as they ran off 33 consecutive wins right after Baylor retired, and finally broke through to the NBA title in 1972.
I was hooked watching Magic, Kareem, Worthy and the rest of the Showtime gang rescue us from the mediocrity of late 70's teams that included names like Robisch, DiGregorio, and Tatum.
But today, on the eve of the next round of this years NBA playoffs, I must confess that it is hard for me to root for the Lakers. And the reason is Kobe Bryant.
For me, Kobe lost some of his luster with his 2003 arrest for rape, a charge that ultimately went unproven, a common occurrence in rape cases.
My buddy says that it is what happens on the field that counts. It is what happens on the court, between the lines that counts. He says that what athletes do in their private life is up to them, and the bottom line is, to quote Jim Rome, scoreboard baby!
But is it?
A few years back, Sir Charles Barkley made the announcement that he was not a role model. He claimed that kids should look to parents, and whether or not kids looked to him as a role model, that was not his issue.
However, when people play their sports like OJ Simpson, Lawrence Taylor, Tiger Woods, and yes, Kobe Bryant, they are role models. Whether they asked for the role or not.
Over the weekend, Major League Baseball held a Civil Rights Roundtable featuring among others, two of the games greatest players, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
Here is what Aaron, who endured countless death threats as he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record thought about role models in sports, as reported by Mike Bauman of mlb.com.
On the topic of role models, which was central to the roundtable discussion, Aaron related a story about a blue-chip football recruit he met at the end of his own playing career. The player was being sought by big-time college programs and Aaron noted how he looked the part, impressively large and muscled. The young man's idol was Walt Garrison, who had been a prominent running back with the Dallas Cowboys. Garrison was also a longtime spokesman for a brand of smokeless tobacco.
As a result, the football prospect used "snuff" incessantly. He eventually died from the effects of it. Aaron said that whenever he thought about what his actions as famous baseball player meant to young people, this example came to mind. He was inescapably a role model.
Think about that last sentence. He was inescapably a role model. Unlike Barkley, both Hank Aaron and Willie Mays understood this and made lifestyle choices based on this reality. They did not let themselves get in situations that might be misinterpreted, or reflect badly on their employers or their sport.
Is it too much to expect the same type of decision making maturity from our sports stars today, knowing inescapably that whether they like it or not, they are role models?
In light of the fact that we pay them millions of dollars to play a game, I think not.
What are your thoughts?