Athletes of Influence?

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There has been much debate throughout the years about what athletes owe their fans. Some believe that athletes just provide mere entertainment, but others believe that athletes are role models. A role model is a person who is looked up to by others as someone to be imitated. There may have been a time when kids looked up to firemen, policemen and maybe politicians. Generally speaking those times are long gone now. Sports stars are now our youth’s object of affection and admiration.

Being looked up to by young kids didn’t seem to bother the sports stars too much at least until Charles Barkley spoke up. In 1993, Charles Barkley said, “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.” Barkley was right in many ways. He was right in that the NBA employed him to play basketball and help them win games. Athletes’ could also model their basketball game after him, but not necessarily his behavior off the court. However, it’s difficult to accept your responsibility as an athlete on the court and deny your responsibility to society as a person. I think Barkley was under the impression that star athletes get to choose whether or not they’re role models.

Right, wrong or indifferent, athletes don’t get to choose to be role models; they are chosen. Athletes are paraded in front of the camera all day, every day and their high visibility keeps them constantly on the minds of young children. These young children are not mature enough to separate the athlete from the person. They don’t just look at star athletes and say, “I want to be like them in sports.” They look at star athletes and desire to be like them in every facet.  Of course the child’s parent can sit them down and explain to their son or daughter how they should separate the athletes’ athletic skills from who they are as a person. However, that is very difficult to do especially when many star athletes are viewed as superheroes by the children who admire them.

Parents are and should be the main role models in a child’s life, but that’s not always the case. There are so many children that come from broken or abusive homes that sometimes it’s difficult for them to view their parents or guardians as role models. Our youth need someone to look up to and use as a measuring stick to aspire to become better people. I don’t think we can ever stop our children from looking up to star athletes nor do I think we should. We do however need to provide our children with role models on many different levels.

Young athletes should be able to look to their parents, teachers, coaches and mentors as role models in addition to the star athletes. Very few children ever get to meet their childhood sports hero and so that renders them untouchable role models. They are the role models of their dreams. The parents, teachers, coaches and mentors are the role models that the children come in contact with on a consistent basis and therefore should have the most influence over the young athlete.

With that being said, we still can’t let our sports stars off the hook. While they may not choose to be role models, they are by default. It’s important that we teach our young athletes at a very young age that people are and will be continuing to look up to them. By choosing to become a sports star they are also choosing to become a leader. Leaders carry the heavy burden of leading by example in every aspect of their lives. You can’t choose one without the other.