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Athletes as Role Models?

I recently got into a verbal fight over this topic and I'd like to voice my opinion and see how it varies from others.

I guess what brought this topic about was thinking about recent (over the past few years) such as Michael Vick (dog fights), Tiger Woods (cheating on his wife multiple times), Barry Bonds (steroids), AROD (steroids), and Ben Roethlisberger (assault and sexual misconduct multiple times).

It is not hard to see that most children look up to athletes as role models. I myself looked up Don Mattinglly and Paul O'Neill as a child but, if they would have done something to blemish their reputations I would not have thought ...wow Donny does this so I should too.

The question is " Should athletes be accountable for being role models?"

My opinion is that a child is going to look up to the athlete regardless but, the athlete did not ask for that. It is the athlete's job to produce on the field, or the ice, or the court, ect. but, once they are off the clock they should be considered normal people and allowed to live their lives. They should be treated as normal people; good or bad.

The perfect example of this is Michael Jordan. Everybody wanted to " Be Like Mike"...on the court. Kids don't say I love Michael Jordan so I want to cheat on my wife and lose thousands and thousands of dollars gambling; they say I want to be like Mike and dunk from the foul line.

Athletes are good people when they are playing their game for the most part but, when they are off the clock they should not be judged differently than anybody else; they are only human.


  1. I think what athletes,celebrities,priests,CEO's... all allow us to do is take comfort in the fact that just about everybody has problems it is human nature. In the general public we all strive to do our best and we usually succeed at a few things when we try to do our best but as humans we still have faults. How many perfect "role models" are there, I would argue not that many because human nature doesn't allow it. For those who want everyone to be perfect there is still hope as we are still evolving. Back to the Yankees, I think they have some solid role models on the team so hopefully kids choose the right ones (in my mind CC is a good guy to model yourself after so far).

  2. Athletes should not be held accountable for being role models. As you say, they are only human, and everyone makes mistakes.

    People don't give kids enough credit. They think that because a child likes a particular athlete with issues, that the child will just blindly follow in their footsteps and think it's okay to lose all their money gambling, cheat on their wife, etc. Kids are not stupid. They can tell the difference between right and wrong. They have the ability to respect an athlete's on-field talents, while acknowledging their off-field indiscretions.

  3. That's assuming that the child has positive role models at home, and someone to help them understand that they can admire someone for their athletic skill and still abhor their behavior.

  4. I would have to disagree with the post and the commenters. With fame and fortune should come some sense of responsibility that goes beyond yourself and what you want. If we just accept the status quo, then that is what we will get.

    It is not that young athletes will consciously think "since Michael Jordan cheated on his wife, I can too," it's that it becomes viewed as an acceptable perspective by youth. It becomes more the norm.

    The reverse could also be true. If this was not the case, then it becomes less acceptable. No one is going to think because Tim Tebow is a good guy and shows good character, I will too. This is no different than poorly-behaved kids in school that set poor examples for others and tend to drag down the rest of the class. Kids don't think "I am going to misbehave because that is what Johnny does," it just becomes part of the group dynamics of the class. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

    I view this mainly from the athlete’s perspective, or what I believe the athlete's perspective could be. They "should" see themselves as role models. Society as a whole (and the esteemed privilege that society has bestowed to them) has put them in that position whether we, or they, like it or not. They "should" feel some sense of responsibility for that position, and they don’t. It is called being a responsible person, showing character and integrity, showing a sense above and beyond oneself.

    Instead, some, too many, demonstrate poor character/integrity, insolent, illegal, unethical, entitled types of behavior. Like they are above the rules, above the law. This is the example a good number are setting for our youth. It is what has helped support the loss of perspective and winning at all costs attitudes we see in our sports culture today, and that are filtering down into the youth level of sports. And it is a pervasive example.

    From the athlete’s perspective, to say I am not a role model as Charles Barkley inferred in past comments, is simply a cop-out, a shunning of one’s responsibility. And when we support that by stating we are in favor of that belief, we then become part of the problem by removing some of the consequence and accountability from the position we ourselves have put these people in.

    If elite and professional level athletes believed themselves to be role models, if they demonstrated a more positive perspective by setting good examples for others, like, I would guess, John Wooden might have wanted to have seen, attitudes throughout our sports culture would change, including at the youth level. Keep accepting what we have and we will keep getting what we get.

    Kirk Mango
    "Becoming a True Champion"
    "The Athlete’s Sports Experience"