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I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and Executive Director of a non profit missions agency working primarily in the Mexican cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Ensenada. I've been married for over 30 years to Chelle, and we have one grown son, Joseph, a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Sports and Role Models... Are We Expecting Too Much?

[Baseball great Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron and Willie "The Say Hey Kid" Mays]

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?

Comments on "Sports and Role Models... Are We Expecting Too Much?"


Blogger timmer said ... (1:23 PM) : 

I think the pedestal we place athletes on is artificial. The fact that these guys (or gals) are good at a sport makes them amazing...at that sport. When they live lives which are worthy of emulating, great. Otherwise, expecting them to be perfect is akin to expecting food to go unspoiled (especially when the world shows us time and time again how capable humans are at doing good for extended periods of time).

Perhaps we would be better off encouraging our children to stop looking up to these folks and start viewing them as human beings.


Blogger Z-man said ... (1:39 PM) : 

I'm revealing my age here but growing up I was a big Mets fan and remember some story of Cleon Jones having sex with a woman in a van. We seem to be drifing towards the other position in society, that what pro-athletes really do in their off-time doesn't matter Tiger Woods being the most recent example. Hell we've applied it to presidents (e.g. Bill Clinton). It's an interesting subject role models and they are whether they want to be or not. NOW if you agree to be on a box of Wheaties then it seems to me you've already accepted the role of role model.


Blogger I Want To Set It Straight said ... (1:50 PM) : 

For me it's guys like Derek Jeter. Tiger Woods should hang it up, he made a complete ass out of himself.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (2:00 PM) : 

Timmer, you're right in a sense, like Barkley was, but reality is different, if Aaron is correct.

I believe he is.

And I think the ad companies know it too. How else could we get a campaign of "Be Like Mike?"

Z, aren't all athletes in some sense on Wheaties boxes when we sell their jerseys? I certainly hear you on the issue of compartmentalizing our lives between public and private.

I think it is much easier for those of us not in the public spotlight.

Straight, Jeter has done pretty well. A-Rod on the same team, not so well. And i think Tiger's stature has been irreparably harmed.


Blogger CHAIRMAN TAO said ... (6:45 PM) : 

I think, as a society, one of our fundamental problems is that we no longer accept the concept that with success comes responsibility.

Yes, I believe athletes should be role models, as I believe politicians and business leaders should do the same.

No athlete is worth the salaries that they are paid but because they enjoy those salaries they have an obligation to be role models...

The same holds true for movie stars...

Which means the least Britney Spears could do is to make sure she has underwear on whenever she goes out in public....

I also believe we have quite a few politicans and business leaders that need to fall on their swords....


Blogger Beth said ... (6:50 PM) : 

They are human beings, they make mistakes and they also choke when the big game is on sometimes (here in Cleveland, they choke ALL the time, which is why I don't follow professional sports at all anymore).

In my opinion, if you want your kid to have a real role model, you first must be that role model. In addition, teach him or her when the big guys fail and fall that you do not agree with their bad choices and why. Further, teach your children to look up to the unsung heroes that you may see mentioned on TV or online in a story.


Blogger Doug said ... (8:36 PM) : 

I think the "be like Mike" reference was perfect.

That ad has the every day person or kid dreaming of being great, like Mike.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Wanting to duplicate and achieve greatness.

The problem is that when anybody, athlete or not, (to touch upon the 'other role models' mentioned) begins to think that they are truely great and not like anybody else, sometimes they think that the rules don't apply to them because they are not like anybody else.

The minute they do that they are not saying "be like Mike" they are saying there is no way you ever could be like me or know what it is to be like me and (IMHO) inescapably removing themselves from being that role model.

Role models are for dreaming, working and wanting to be more than you currently are.


Blogger dmarks said ... (7:05 AM) : 

I still think of Kobe Bryant as one of the most despicable people in sports. Not a role model, but a rapist who got away with it because he had more money than his victim and was able to hire the best liars possible.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (7:24 AM) : 

Thank you Dmarks for making my point...


Blogger tha malcontent said ... (10:26 AM) : 

dmarks said...

I still think of Kobe Bryant as one of the most despicable people in sports. Not a role model, but a rapist who got away with it because he had more money than his victim and was able to hire the best liars possible.

At last dmarks and I agree on something.
Now if we can get him to admit that Jocko Jackson was also as guilty as hell we will really be getting alone.

As for Tiger Woods, there's no denying he's a classless putz.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:47 PM) : 

I teach my kids to enjoy sports, Hollywood, music etc, but don't put stars on a pedestal and don't get all wrapped up in it. It's all fantasy anyway.

I was a big baseball fan, but the whole Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds Steroid episode really wrecked it for me. These men's names should be stricken from all of baseball.

Hammerin' hank is still the home run champ!

Nice blog, btw...


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