Reference is usually made to a famous quote attributed to Charles Barkley in a heavily criticized Nike ad in1993 in which he said, “I am not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids” (Land 2010)
The reason this ad created such a furor is that athletes are the subject of adoration for many young people. They are revered and worshiped by both young and old people alike. In ancient Rome, gladiators were accorded the same adoration despite the gory nature of the sport they partook. It thus follows that despite the moral attributes of the athlete under consideration, they always manage to garner ardent followers who hang on their every word. Morals come as a distant consideration, if considered at all, when people are choosing a sporting figure to emulate, or just adore. This paper seeks to explore whether athletes are role models, and if so, whether they are good role models or bad role models.
A Role Model
A role model is someone who we would like to emulate in behavior as regards to a certain role (Junkere 2009). Young people are very impressionable and any figure they choose to emulate makes a big impact on their lives. A study conducted by Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that sports stars make 59.5% of the people that school-going children would like to emulate (ATL 2008). There is no shortage of people who adore and emulate sports personalities. The question that is open for debate is whether any of these athletes are worth emulating, on and off the field.
Debate on Athletes as Role Models
In 1936 Nazi Germany, the Summer Olympics was underway in Berlin. The then German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, was a man of strong convictions, most of which had heavy racial undertones. It was his expectation that his ‘superior alien race’ would scoop all the medals in the Olympics so that he could use the outcome of the Olympics to fuel his propaganda of an ‘alien race’. Amid all this racial bigotry was a black American athlete named Jesse Owens. Against a backdrop of negative expectations on his performance by the host nation, he went on to win four gold medals and put the Nazis in their place (Demand Media 2010). He lived a seemingly virtuous public life and when he died in 1980 of lung cancer complications, the then US president Carter hailed him as having shown unparalleled human struggle against poverty, Tyranny and racial bigotry in a career dedicated to helping others (CMG Worldwide 2010).
Tiger Woods has also been hailed as an exceptional athlete. He has won 14 professional golf championships, is the second highest ranking male player, and has at one time held the position of ‘World No. 1′. He is hailed as been the greatest finisher in sports history and praised for his tenacity (Celizic 2006).
Surely these two men have a lot we can emulate in their lives. They have virtuous attributes that we all want to emulate. Not only do they excel in their sports, but they also display perseverance, persistence, the will to do what no one else has done before and a virtuous life, at least for Jesse. Tiger has for a long time been considered a role model by many, myself included, until he started generating news that had people shaking angry fists at him. In 2010, he was the subject of tabloid gossip that he later came out to confirm. All of a sudden, he was no longer a role model for many, just because he had been involved in numerous extra-marital affairs. This is despite the fact that Tiger still remains a formidable force on the golf course (Land 2010).
It is then that questions are raised as to what makes us view the athletes as role models. Is it not possible to separate their personal life from their sporting activities? Despite the fact that I have considered Tiger to be a role model all along, I don’t have the slightest idea what a ‘birdie’ is. I am so terrible in golf knowledge that I wouldn’t know why one club is not sufficient without consulting Wikipedia and I hold unflattering views about golf, yet I still considered Tiger a role model. He held qualities, and still does, that made him a role model. Based on the fact that I didn’t look up to Tiger as a committed family man, it wouldn’t be fair for me to shake my fist with indignation at his marital woes and remove him from the list of my role models.
According to TSLP, a role model has an importance limitation to the scope of his being a model; He is a model for a specific ‘role’ (2007). We should therefore be able to choose what aspect of an athlete’s life we choose to emulate. Sure enough, you cannot emulate Tiger Wood’s misdeeds off the court, but there are other aspects of him you might want to emulate especially if you want to be a professional golfer. Land (2010) says that athletes do not ask to be regarded as role models, but others beg to differ.
According to Sailes, the executive director of NCAA made a valid point when he declared that athletes who refuse to acknowledge that they are role models have turned a blind eye to their adult responsibilities (2001) A random survey of Indiana University students showed that an overwhelming 66% feel that it’s the responsibility, socially and morally, of athletes to serve as role models. Only a 30% portion regarded sports as a reflection of society and deemed it unfair to hold athletes to a higher moral scale that we hold ourselves (Sailes 2001).
According to Tauer, the portrayal by the media is the issue. He holds the opinion that the media is usually prejudiced in its portrayal of athletes. The media tends to focus on the negative attributes of the athletes at the expense of their positive sides (2009).
In addition, the shortcomings of the athletes should also serve to teach people about success and how to handle its many pitfalls (Tauer 2009). Lessons can be drawn from the many doping cases that dog many athletes. There are also lessons to learn from subsequent downfall of athletes involved in crime and general misconduct.
In order to become an athlete, a lot of preparation is required. One has to undergo rigorous training which exposes the athlete to possible injuries. Should injuries occur, as they are bound to, one has to undergo a long healing process which sets them back many milestones. Then there is more training and competing. This is a very torturous process that is only overcome by those who have the will to persevere and the persistence to hold on until they achieve top form. That alone is something we all ought to emulate in our daily lives.
Most athletes acknowledge their responsibility as role models. One such athlete is Tiger Woods who expressed regret for letting down his fans by setting a poor example. Then there is Grant Hill who strives to be a person we can all emulate. (Land 2010). Tailes states that the public expects too much of the athletes. The athletes are usually harassed and a barrage of intrusions is visited on them and yet we still expect them to behave to our expectations. He maintains that trouble is always looking for them and that too much scrutiny is what makes them appear as rogue (2001).
Of course some transgressions committed by athletes are beyond simple, overly magnified deviations in behavior. These are cases to do with assault, weapon possession, rape, manslaughter and even murder. (Tailes 2001). Such monumental crimes violations of the law are enough to blot any positive achievement of any athlete.
Arguments abound on whether athletes are supposed to be role models. TSLP argues that there is absolutely no reason why we should expect athletes to be a model of virtue, where that virtue is not required on the field (TSLP 2007).
Athletes are people who are held at a lofty place in the society owing to their popularity and wealth. These attributes are what makes people want to look up to them and model various facets of their lives along those of the athletes. They therefore seem to not have a choice in the matter and are automatically regarded as role models by society, as research findings have shown.
Athletes have also generated as much controversy in their careers as they have in their personal lives. These controversies are over a myriad of issues ranging from cheating to win the games, gambling, immoral conduct to law breaking. This has led some people to doubt the capability of athletes to act as
While these issues tend to taint various attributes of these athletes, there still remain admirable traits about their lives and careers that we can emulate. The most notable of these being the virtues that enables them to excel in sports amid stiff competition in an already strenuous undertaking. In addition, there are those athletes whose lives we can regard with nothing short of admiration. We can thus be led to conclude that though athletes have shown less than admirable traits, there are valuable lessons that their lives can teach us and as such, athletes are role models.