In the wake of Oscar Pistorius allegedly murdering his girlfriend, it is once again time to revisit the perceived concept that athletes are role models. Pistorius, also known as the “Blade Runner,” was an inspiration during the 2012 Summer Olympics; he competed for the South African track team despite being a double amputee.
Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone who has ever played a sport has looked up to a player in their generation. Young football players in this generation might look up to Tom Brady or Cam Newton; for young basketball players, it might be Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
As for myself, I had two role models growing up. One was former Syracuse basketball star Gerry McNamara because the man always played his best and inspired me to continue to play basketball when he went on a tear during the 2006 Big East tournament. However, he was not a professional athlete, so the aura around him was not as big as my other role model, Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez is always in the media’s eyes and was popular among Yankee fans until he stopped hitting, and then the issue of steroid usage seemed to become more of a problem.
Having a professional athlete as a role model is not necessarily a negative thing. Most professionals are reasonable people. Most parents would love to have their child look up to Derek Jeter because it seems he is a class act, both on and off the field. Even some of my friends who are Red Sox fans admit that Jeter is respectable, despite the fact that they dislike the Yankees. On the other hand, most of the superstars in any sport carry enough baggage around that an airline would not be able to fit it below the plane.
Kobe Bryant has had to deal with being called a rapist since 2004, even though the charges were dropped due to the victim’s unwillingness to testify. Super Bowl XXXV MVP, Ray Lewis, has been deemed a murderer after an incident in 2000 in which two people ended up dead. Many suspected that Lewis had stabbed them, but he ended up getting an obstruction of justice charge. In fact, he never said, “I’m going to Disney World,” as the MVP. Instead, QB Trent Dilfer did the honors.
For the young soccer athletes in France, looking up to Zinedine Zidane was normal because he was a great player. However, his infamous head-butt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup against Italy did not only hurt his image, it cost France the World Cup. In fact, there is a statue erected in France that is five meters tall that shows the action. Lance Armstrong was not just a role model in cycling, but in fighting cancer. I really do feel terrible for those people who had hung on his every word and had to listen to him defend his reputation, only to admit on “Oprah” that it was all a façade.
Charles Barkley once said, “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” That is a reasonable statement, but whether he liked it or not, there were people who looked up to him. It’s ultimately up to us to decide who we want our role models to be. No matter who we decide to follow in life, it is important to understand that there is a difference between admiring statistics and admiring character. As for the “Blade Runner,” he joins the long list of athletes who go from hero to zero in the court of public opinion. That list will never stop growing, and anyone can be added at any time.