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Are Athletes Really Role Models or Are They Just People?

Perhaps Charles Barkley had it correct. He was quoted in 2002 saying, “I am not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on a basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I can dunk a basketball, that doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

This past year we have seen Tiger Woods admit to “transgressions”. He has taken a leave from the PGA tour to work on his marriage in light of numerous alleged extramarital affairs. Rick Pitino, the head coach of Louisville’s men’s basketball team has admitted an extramarital affair, that tremendously shook that university. Michael Phelps was recorded smoking marijuana. Steve Garvey, Wade Boggs, Shawn Kemp, Derrick Thomas, Patrick Ewing,,,,, the list goes on and on. If we go back in the history of sports, you will find that athletes of almost every generation may have been great performers on the athletic field, but may have had a variety of issues off the field that affected their personal and professional lives. Babe Ruth was a severe alcoholic, but could hit home runs, so he was worshipped for his athletic abilities. However, his alcohol problem probably led to the end of his career sooner than it may have had he been sober.

Athletes have been and will continually be looked upon, especially by the youth of today and of future generations with great admiration and awe. Beyond the physical gifts many of these individuals have, they also have the mental and psychological skills that allow them to excel at their respective sport. Whether it is hitting a towering home run, shooting a score in the low 60’s, dunking a basketball or breaking a world record in the pool or on the track, superior athletes will always be looked upon by most people as having the ability to do anything better than the rest of us. But does that mean they are better than everyone else and should be looked on as a role model?

The answer to that question in my opinion is yes and no. Most professional athletes are wonderful human beings. They are role models for youngsters and for adults. They conduct themselves professionally and treat others with respect and humility. You never hear a lot about these athletes because they stay out of trouble, follow the rules of society and their teams, and are great teammates. However, some athletes stand out because of their superior physical talents. They are looked upon differently. They are “supposed” to be better than everyone else because of their physical gifts. However, they may not be. Why? Because, they are just as human as the rest of us. Their physical gifts may be greater than others, but emotionally and psychologically, they may not have the same values and abilities. That may be because of their upbringing, or it may be because they have been catered to by others because of their athletic abilities. Consequently, even though they may run faster and jump higher than others, they may not be able to handle it as well.

Personally, I believe these athletes can be even greater role models for all of us when they admit they have failed and are honest about trying to change their ways. It is not easy being in the public spotlight. In today’s society with all of the technological advances and media outlets, it is extremely difficult to keep your private life private. As a result, I think an athlete or coach who has been successful, but then makes a serious life altering mistake and can admit his “transgressions” can be a greater role model for his or her honesty.
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