American ethos has nurtured an acceptance that athletes are in fact role models for the youth of today. Mothers and fathers gather with their children while pointing to the television, magazine, or website and use phrases “Did you see that? Don’t you want to be like him or her?” For over 20 years kids have uttered the phrase, made popular by commercial marketing, “I want to be like Mike.” Have we fallen in society to the point where being famous makes you a good person? Just because you can dunk, run a 4.2 second 40-yard dash, or even hit a home run then you are a worthy person? Has a ration of society lost track of who our role models should be? Have those parents forgotten how imperative it is to ensure your child has the tools to succeed both intellectually and emotionally?
Whether I like it or not athletes are considered role models. Is this the athlete’s burden? No, but it is a role they must agree to take until society gets back to what really matters. And what matters is not the professional athlete. A professional athlete is famous because of a tuned and innate skill set sharpened over years of preparation and commitment. Recent history has not been kind to some. Let’s just discuss a few crowning moments of monumental shame.
Olympians like Oscar Pistorius, the first double-amputee runner to compete in the Olympics, was convicted of killing his girlfriend in 2013. Former Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez can catch a football, is he what you want your children aspiring to be? Aaron Hernandez had been convicted in the murder of Odin Lloyd and was spending his life in prison until apparently taking his own life. Clearly these are a couple of extreme examples that most reasonable human beings will admit should not be role models. I am more concerned with the lesser offenders. Let’s look at a couple of unique examples that show how the respected and revered can prove us all wrong.
Alex Rodriguez burst on the scene with all-world ability and rapidly became one of Major League Baseball’s rising megastars. A-Rod began using Performance Enhancing Drugs to stay at the top of his game and then denied that he ever took them. In fact A-Rod told Katie Couric of 60 minutes in front of a national television audience that he never used PEDs.
One year later, after it was disclosed that he did take PEDs, he sat down with Peter Gammons to ask for forgiveness for being young and senseless. Then in 2013 A-Rod is connected to PEDs again via the Biogenesis probe. He was suspended for over a year. Although now retired, is this the type of person you want your children aspiring to become? He is not alone and by far, not the worst.
Lance Armstrong is a cancer survivor and helped establish the Live Strong Foundation igniting a faith and love in him the world over. He won seven Tour De France titles and became the beacon of trust and belief in one’s self. He always said he did it through hard work and clean living. The masses believed him and many, like me, bought in hook line and sinker. However Armstrong was linked to PEDs and blood doping on many occasions and suspect to rumor many times. Armstrong sued and won cases for defamation of character against media outlets that claimed he was a user. He posed with his jerseys and used them to parade around under a false guise of greatness.
Then it happened, the evidence was overwhelming and it was confirmed that Armstrong was not only a user of PEDs and blood doping but the mastermind of a culture of doping. He lost his titles and was barred for life. He curled up on Oprah’s Couch to apologize for his wrongdoings. Armstrong actually attacked others in the media through the court system for in essence speaking the truth about him. He crushed companies and people both emotionally and economically for telling the truth all in the sake of a name he crafted that held the truth from society. My opinion will always be that the good Armstrong may have done is and will forever be overshadowed but the evil nature deep in the man’s soul. Is this the type of man that defines a role model?
I have said it previously but it bears repeating. Those are the people that are the role models for our youth, the people that the younger generation aspire to be like and the people always in the public eye with a responsibly to do their part in molding the future of our children. How unfortunate and sad is that? It is up to the parents and families to break this chain. It is up to them to mold and teach their children how to live. It is not their friend’s job, it is not the schools job and it certainly is not an athlete’s role to teach our kids what is right and what is wrong. Athletes are just trying to do a high profile job that does not necessitate a strong moral backbone. Just because you are gifted does not mean you have a high moral fiber. It also does not mean you don’t either.
When you become a parent, and I am a father of two, you assume the responsibility and it should always be taken seriously. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world but it must always be treated with the seriousness it requires. You can never lack, you can never give in, and you can never just “let it go.” Be the parent you had or wanted growing up. Set the example and mold the youth. We are all better as a society if you do.
Should most professional athletes be demonized like some I previously spoke about? No, most are regular people just going to work and doing a job. It just happens to be that the job is on national television and played in front of thousands or millions of fans. Not to be outshined are the athletes that do set the right model. Not because they have to but because they want to. Most Olympic Athletes are positive role models showing the younger generation what hard work can achieve. Mariano Rivera, who has devoted his time to building schools and helping the poor in his native Panama while always doing the right thing, is an example of a role model. Pat Tillman walked away from fame and riches to serve his country. Sadly he gave the ultimate expense while setting the example of what matters in life. The Tillman’s and Rivera’s should be highly praised but they are often overshadowed by the flashy athlete that sometimes comes with baggage. But it is not their job to be role models. It was just something that came to them naturally through their personal belief systems.
Everything boils down to accountability and that responsibility falls on the mothers and fathers. When an athlete makes an error or breaks the law the repercussions of those activities should be dealt with to the extent of the law. But that is where it should end. If an athlete gets in a bar fight they have failed themselves. They have not failed your children. If they get caught cheating they have failed themselves. They did not fail the youth of America.
The only things our nation’s youth should be learning from professional athletes is that dedication can pay off. To become a professional athlete requires a dedication that many are not born with. They have worked hard for their entire lives and reap the rewards at the highest level. Does this dedication warrant replacing a parent as a role model? Not ever. At most these athletes should be considered as an addition to and not a replacement of the parent as the role model. Frankly even that is a stretch. Let them do their jobs and enjoy the entertainment they provide. Nothing more than that and nothing less.
Athletes are visible to our children for a couple of hours a week. How often are the parents around their children? A tad more is the understatement of the new millennium. But if the parents are there how do the athletes become the role models? According to a Pew Research survey in 2012 and analysis of the American Time Use Survey, which began in 2003, 23% of mothers and 46% of fathers think they spend too little time with their children. This same study calculated that overall, 33% of parents with children under 18 say they do not spend enough time with their children while 40% of mothers and 34% of fathers always feel rushed. As social media and perceived obligation has grown can you fathom what that number is in 2017?
Has parenting become too hard? Has society today fostered a growth that this is not our problem? A resounding no will answer both of those questions in totality. Many parents must sacrifice their time for the betterment of their children but are we? According to a study by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange and reported by Marketingcharts.com, Americans age 18-64 who use social media (and who doesn’t) spend an average of 3.2 hours per day engaged in social media activities. Many of the same parents that feel rushed all time can find a way to update Facebook, snap away or tweet some instant yet frankly irrelevant goodness.
While not all, some in our society do not have their priorities straight. Nobody will ever say parenting is easy and I would not claim that it was. However, if the time is not made then our kids are forced to find their role models outside the home. Some mothers and fathers can only blame themselves. Remember, when you have a child that becomes your reason for living. If you feel like you are losing yourself or that you are inconvenienced by your kids then there is a larger problem that needs to be addressed. You can still be you and be a good parent. Life is a balance and you better not fall or your kids will be the ones that are broken.
Prioritizing is never easy but it needs to be done. Update your fantasy team when they go to bed, catch the highlights on the late news and remember the world can wait to hear your Facebook update. Ensuring time is always quality time is key for parents. I am not talking about spending money nor I am talking about giving up who you truly are as a person. It is all about maximizing every minute. Take the time on the way to school to talk about right and wrong, show them what hard work can do for them, ask them about their day, shut off the TV, play catch, shoot some jumpers, and play what they want to play. It is not always easy but take the effort. For some it is harder than others but if you are struggling you can help foster a mentality that will put your kids in a better place later in life.
I am not standing on a soap box exclaiming that every parent in America is a bad parent. I am also not suggesting that it is simple. It takes commitment and I believe there are some parents that have just lost touch with what matters. Just because a parent explains right from wrong when a child is young it does not mean the job is over. In fact as they get older and their environment influences them parents need to remind them of what should be. It could be more imperative at that time then when they were younger. Continue to show them what a role model should be and remind them that athletes, while fun to watch, are just entertainers and nothing more. Continue to be the example and make every minute count. Often there are not hours in a day but rather minutes. Make those minutes count, always.
Athletes are treated as role models in the absence of role models in our children’s lives or when environmental forces outweigh what they learned at a younger age. In a Nike commercial Charles Barkley famously said; “I am not a role model.” LeBron James has echoed the same. They are right, completely right. Don’t let your children rely on athletes for life lessons. Instead be the difference. Write your own playbook. One that guarantees the success of your child. Be their anchor. Be their rock. There is no excuse. It will not always be easy but remember to be the difference and teach them to enjoy the athletes for what they are, entertainment. Nothing more and nothing less.
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