In a few of my past columns, I have written about the problems that have occurred in professional sports over the last couple decades. From the use of performance enhancing drugs to concussions, there seems to be an underlying reason for what has happened to many well-known professional athletes. The most disturbing aspect within the professional sporting ranks is that there are a few who are labeled as poor role models for the youth of our nation, and yet they seem to have become the focal point of the press.
Seriously, every time there is a controversial event in professional sports it seems to be predominately a negative occurrence that involves high-profile athletes. Think about it. There are many a superstar falling off their pedestals and usually their problems are related for financial gain. From Lance Armstrong to Alex Rodriguez, their stories have been a big disappointment. Some people have become callous to it all and write it off as part of the scene in professional sports.
In a researched article from the “Journal of Adolescent Health”, January 2011, an article mentioned that as many as 59 percent of adolescents can identify a role model in their lives. In the article, it states that teenagers who looked to athletes were more likely to make positive health-related decisions. The fact is that all athletes and coaches are some sort of role model. Unfortunately, some high-profiled athletes engage in negative behavior, but at least overall, the athletic lifestyle lends itself to a position of positive role modeling for adolescents.
For young adults, engaging in physical activity is so important. So, pre-teens and teenagers will benefit from the physical activity that their favorite sports hero does by being fit, healthy and strong.
The benefits included are the development of self confidence, a structure that involves a good work ethic and how important it is to be physically fit as well as academically fit. This is why professional athletes, whether they like it or not, have a moral obligation to lead the good life and be the best public person they can be because they are under the microscope and need to lead by example. Practically every move they make is being observed by their fans, especially the youngest fans, who, in many ways, would like to emulate their heroes.
The high school and college athletes have to become more aware of their roles as well. There are youngsters watching what they’re doing.
These little fans don’t miss too much. If a student-athlete is messing up in school by not keeping his or her grades up to par, or is in trouble for breaking the school’s, or team’s, code of conduct—it’s noticed. The fan, especially the littlest ones, who look at them in admiration and has dreams of becoming just like them, develops a possible issue of disappointment and even confusion. This is real stuff and it happens more than not.
This whole concept of role models through athletics, doesn’t only relate to the individual, but it can also pertain to a team: whether professional, collegiate or scholastic.
When a team is high profile, it usually is through its fan base and, of course, the media. The fact that professional athletes make a lot of money is just not a good enough reason for them to become automatic role models. The truth is that athletic role models may help children pursue mastery goals, such as acquiring new skills, like developing the jump-shot through observation and the attempt to emulate a player, and improving the quality of their physical abilities.
Is it appropriate to look to athletic figures as role models and whether they should be held up to the consequences of their misbehaviors? Are athletes the right symbols as role models? Former NBA great Charles Barkley has an answer for those questions – “No.”
He believes athletes are not the figures that children should be emulating. He feels that it is the parents who have the obligation and responsibility to be role models. He states that the players have a duty to give peak performance on the court or field, and that is it. To “Sir Charles,” as he is known, this country’s youth needs role models and athletes have both an incredible opportunity and responsibility to use their strengths by demonstrating good conduct and being a good example for America’s youth. I really feel strongly about the importance of athletes who actually lead by example, like it or not, it’s a fact! Will a child ask a sports figure for their autograph because they heard about them using PEDs? Don't think so! Athletes, at all levels, need to be at their best behavior—it’s our heritage, and it’s a contract for a good life.