Anyone who is over the age of 30 knows what Charles Barkley thinks about athletes being role models. Sir Charles made a Nike commercial in which he said, “I am not a role model.” He was crucified by a great majority of people (which, naturally, meant nothing to him). However, he did clear up the underlying meaning of the commercial. Barkley’s message was parents should be the role models for their kids. Absolutely correct, Chuck, but like it or not, athletes are role models.
The obvious reason is . . . kids play games. Does anybody believe that when three kids get together they say, “OK, I’ll be a lawyer, you be an accountant and you be a salesman?” Of course not! It’s “I’ll be LeBron, you be Kobe and you be KD or I’ll be Bryce Harper, you be Stephen Strasburg and you be Ryan Zimmerman.” OK, the last three kids are probably from the DC area but you get the picture. As long as youngsters play games, they’re going to find idols.
In the 2006 Christmas issue of Sports Illustrated, then San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, made some pertinent comments on athletes being role models. “No matter how much we don’t want to be, we are role models to so many kids. What they see us do, they will do. As athletes we can’t be selfish and worry about only ourselves.”
Ryan Braun let a great many people down when he (finally) admitted he took PEDs. The quotes from his fellow ballplayers, especially his teammates, have to really sting. In some cases guys who fervently backed him last year are blasting him now. I would think if he were given the choice to go back in time and play baseball within the rules, he would take it even if he were told there was no way he would’ve have won the MVP award. Guess what? Too late.
I believe Aaron Hernandez was sincere when, months ago, he said he had to change and act in a responsible manner because it was the Patriot Way, that he had no choice but to grow up because he had a child and was about to get married. His earlier demons had doomed him and, quite possibly, in his mind he thought erasing the past would allow him to act responsibly from then on out. It could have been a wonderful story but what Hernandez failed to understand is you don’t get to choose when to act the way humans are expected to act. The passing of his father apparently had a traumatic impact on him but, unfortunately, a lot of kids lose their parents too early in their life. And, somehow, they deal with it because, independent of whatever odds you may have to overcome, you’re still accountable for your actions.
There are other tragic figures in professional sports but, luckily for all of us, there are exponentially more of whom we can be proud. Or at least not be fearful to support because they’re one incident away from shaming us. Or themselves. Or worse.
In that ‘06 SI article, LT summed it up perfectly:
“The way you behave is a product of who you are and what you’re all about.”