Are Athletes Ideal Role Models?

Shaunak GodkhindiContributor IMarch 3, 2010

The crowd's deafening roar drowns out the excitement resonating from the stadium announcer at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Camera lights flashing, shimmering, making “The Swamp” glisten like a full moon over the ocean. Tim Tebow lines up at the 15 yard line and takes the shotgun snap, keeps the option fake, and runs it in for the touchdown.


The crowd erupts as if the whole state of Florida is screaming “Tebow, Tebow, Tebow!”. He ends a magnificent career at the University of Florida with a perfect play and win over rival Florida State. It seems Hollywood-like, the way Tebow's final play and college career played out earning him the undenying craze and respect of people across the nation.


It seems as though people have always looked up to the strongest or fastest person around. In ancient Greece, Olympic athletes were treated like royalty. Any winner in those games, just as it is done today, was showered with money, riches, privileges, and most importantly, the respect and idolization of young and old alike.


America's obsession with sports is untested.


Year after year, ESPN has billions of viewers and year after year the Olympics, Super Bowl, World Cup Soccer, and tons more sporting activities are the most watched programs.


But many people do not see past the buzzer-beating three pointer and the overtime, sudden death hockey goal. Many people haven't seen past scandals, and lawsuits on professional athletes and lost the appreciation for the human under the helmet.


Hundreds of parents will not trust their children to look up to that third baseman who hit three home runs in one game without steroids, or the record setting sprinter who achieved greatness with simple hard work. People of this day need to stop idolizing masked celebrities who do charity work because it is fashionable and need to realize that the real impact comes from someone who cares, even if that is a seven foot millionaire center in the NBA.


Professional athletes are ideal role models because they give back tremendously to their communities, give close to a fourth of their time to charity, and make a global impact. And helping others is no exception, something this NBA great believes.


Earvin “Magic” Johnson is considered one of the NBA's greatest players, and is a living legend in basketball and American society. He's made himself a household name by winning five NBA championships, playing in the Olympics, and earning his spot in the NBA hall of fame. Achieving so many positive feats on the basketball courts, he also had earned the name, “Magic” for the almost superstitious ways he handles the ball.


He's set the bar very high by being the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the league's, most outstanding point guard during the 80s. He has got immense amounts of fame, money, endorsement deals, clothing and shoe lines, and just about everything else a man of his financial and social stature could want or need.


It goes without saying that Magic could be partying daily, spending all of his money, and living a lavished lifestyle, sipping cocktails by day and clubbing by night.


That is exactly the opposite of what this gentle giant does. Magic Johnson started the Magic Johnson Foundation in 1991 and his organization has sprouted tremendously in the past few years, reaching out throughout the nation. His foundation focuses on many aspects, including helping inner city underprivileged Los Angeles youth with an education, helping educate people on HIV/AIDS, finding stable jobs for underprivileged families, scholarship funds, college training, and much more.


To someone who hasn't seen it in person, doing all of the above with success is near to impossible. But just as he has done before, Magic Johnson will find a way to make the improbable a reality.


Mr. Johnson was diagnosed with Aids in 1992 and has been touched by the way his family, team, and and society did all they could to ease his life coping with this killer. This is why he is driven so hard to educate and prevent anyone and everyone from experiencing his pain.


His personal motivation keeps him forever on the move helping diagnosed people cope with the virus. He personally attends all his events and rallies. Through his organization's work, they have helped to educate over 245,000 children through high school, given over 450 families homes, tested over a 1,100 people worldwide for HIV/AIDS, found jobs for over 1,000 people, given over 164,500 children annually an amazing Mardi Gras celebration, and have given college training to hundreds of students making them certified professionals in engineering, nursing, and financial fields.


As the years go by, hundreds more will be touched by Magic Johnson's open and giving hands. Magic Johnson is truly a role model for all. However, Magic isn't the only one making a positive difference to his community.


He has been called “The Machine”. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals' all star fist baseman, is one of the MLB's biggest names. His hitting style, accuracy, and power are highly regarded by world class professionals and regular people alike. When he steps up to the plate and slaps the dirt off of his cleats and bat, the look in his eyes is what has kept pitchers frozen with fear for years.


Cardinals fan or not, anyone who appreciates baseball appreciates Albert and what he has done in the game, not only to better himself, but to also better the league and the game. Pujols has been an eight time all star selection, rookie of the year, golden glove recipient, player of the year for over five years.


But out of all the trophies he has, two mean the most to him. The Marvin Miller Man of Year Award and the Roberto Clemente Award. Both of these prestigious honors are given to players making a difference on the field, but most importantly in their communities. Pujols lives by one philosophy, “ I know I cannot reach everyone that needs my help, but if I can help everyone in my reach and I can be the best husband and father I can be, I'll be satisfied.”


This philosophy led Pujols to start the Pujols Family Foundation. His U.S. based organization is a family operated group that has two main focuses: give back to underprivileged people suffering in the slums of the Dominican Republic, and to help families living with the hardships of down syndrome.


Pujols' past started with humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic and led him to hitting home runs today.


And he hasn't forgotten that.


Every summer, Pujols along with his family, teams of doctors, dentists, and physicians visit numerous slums in the Dominican Republic. In the summer of 2009, Pujols and his crew brought hundreds of free, new mattresses to the people that live in some of the poorest places in South America.


In an interview conducted by Compassion Magazine with a local living in these slums had this to say, “They come to our bateys [neighborhoods] with teams of dentists, eye doctors, and medical doctors, and they help everyone, Compassion Magazine or not,” says Bernard. “Today many of our children have eyeglasses and healthy teeth, thanks to the Pujols. Most of the mothers in their sponsored project not only can show off their beds, but their self esteem is way up high. We will ever remain grateful to our Lord for the Pujols family and their foundation.”


As he raises hope globally, Albert has helped in other ways in his current home as well.


Albert has a daughter who was born with down syndrome.


Many families have a family member with down syndrome and though a family member might be different in few ways compared to the rest of society, Albert wants to help spread the love and the message that they are not so different at all.


Every year, Albert and his foundation conduct an immense barbecue picnic for families living with down syndrome. The day includes games, rides, competition, food for everybody, and happiness through love and the respectable bond all those at the event feel.


Albert has woven himself and his name into the hearts of every family that went on the ferris wheel last summer, every family that received two new beds to sleep in, and in many others' hearts including yours and mine.


However, Pujols is not the only athlete making a global impact.


At the end of 2009, Sports Illustrated Magazine named Tim Tebow the decade's best quarterback and this decade's best college football player. With such accolades as the winner of the 2007 Heisman Trophy, two time SEC champion, two time national champion, two time title game MVP, A Scholar Athlete award, and other tags that lift this beast of a player to an even higher level of greatness, Tebow is arguably the best athlete to play college ball.


His legacy in football will forever live in “The Swamp” where Tebow and his Florida Gators stomped out opponents and made a name for themselves. His larger than life playing style and his “go for it all” attitude and leadership have given him the nickname “Superman”.


A relentless leader in the weight room, on the field, and off the field is what No. 15 will leave at Florida when he graduates in the summer of 2010. It is guaranteed that anybody who is an American sports fan will know who Tebow is. His tenacious spirit has been the driving force in the 22 consecutive wins he piled up from the 2008 to 2009 season.


In 2007, Tebow earned the highest honor a college football player could ever earn, the Heisman Trophy. But soon after, when the rest of the collegiate population went to the beaches of South Florida and California to party for spring break, Tebow had other plans.


Tebow did head out of his university to vacation, just in a slightly different way. Tim was on a flight to the Philippines. Tim's mother and father are missionaries who run a large orphanage in the Philippines, and Tim was going back to help out. This wasn't, however, a one time trip. Tebow goes to his birthplace several times a year for missionary work, charity work, medical charity, and to just bring out a smile on the orphans.


Tebow lists his priorities as his faith, then family, followed by education, and finally football. Tebow's extremely strong belief system and faith as a Christian is the engine driving this man on a mission. Working with Robert, his father, in Bob Tebow's Evangelistic Association, Tim's visits in the Philippines include working in some of the poorest villages in the Philippines and preaching about God, becoming a better person, and how to achieve success through helping others.


He assists in medical work such as minor surgeries and stitches, to cuts in the orphanage. He also cooks and cleans meals for the children. His favorite activity? playing soccer and other games with the kids. He doesn't do it for the cameras or the magazine articles, he truly cares.


Children that have never seen him throw a football on television in the Philippines know his name by heart and just know he's that big guy that comes around to help out and play. Tebow visits hospitals across America and across the Philippines visiting sick people, playing with them and lifting their spirits. When asked about his son's off field work, Bob Tebow said, “He's not playing games. There's a lot of phony people in the world. He genuinely cares about people. You have to care about people to go to the hospital and visit the sick on your own.”


Outside of the hospitals and his orphan visits in the Philippines, Tebow also regularly visits prisons, juvenile detention areas, schools, offices, and churches spreading the word of his faith. Tebow however does not hammer his message on his audience, but simply tells them how his faith has inspired him to be the best athlete and the best person possible. He doesn't aim to brainwash or convince others towards Christianity.


He tries to inspire them to find God and to make God a priority as well as a guiding force in their lives. He has teamed up with the Gators Charity Challenge, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, Children's Miracle Network, the Make a Wish Foundation, and many more organizations to make the world around him a better place.


His work ethic and moral standards are sadly not the same concerning all people.

Just as people have opinions on their favorite sports teams, people have their differing opinions on the issue of whether or not athletes make good role models. Many people see professional athletes as impractical role models. Society sometimes does not look past the touchdowns and state that there are bigger problems in the world and more practical heroes to look towards.


This can be justified when people almost every few months see lawsuits like Michael Vick's dogfighting case, Gilbert Arenas' illegal gun possession charges, and Roger Clemens getting caught using steroids. These allegations are very demoralizing felonies and have ruined all of these athletes' sports careers.


The biggest came in 2007.


Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, was having a great season and was putting up great numbers, until the police got wind of what Vick was conducting on his property. The police found a large dogfighting compound where Vick gambled and organized dog fights. All the dogfighting equipment was confiscated, as well as animals.


Vick was then placed on a two year house arrest and a league suspension as well as a year in prison where he was sentenced community service with animals. Vick has now paid his debt to society and is back on the field. Another large scandal came about when Tiger Woods, regarded as the world's best golfer, was charged on adultery. Tiger had cheated on his wife, having an affair with another woman and was caught.


The father of two was immediate to say he was wrong and then took an indefinite leave of absence from golf. He has lost millions of dollars in endorsements and lost many sponsors. Then just last week, Tiger held a press conference stating his apologies publicly. Not to justify or to state that any of the above mistakes were moral or correct in any way, but everyone messes up, and we are all human.


These people were in the public spotlight and made a mistake. And we should also remember that these people are not the face of sport and competition. There are hundreds of athletes other than the ones previously named without problems that are making a difference and deserve thanks and recognition just as much as the next guy.


Athletes are just as human as you and me except for the fact that most are helping the world around us more than we have done or will do. The athletes mentioned above aren't the only ones giving back, through the NBA Cares foundation, NFL's Play 60, NFL players organization, and many more of professional athletes make a difference in all of our communities daily and deserve our appreciation.


So next time you see somebody with a Drew Brees jersey or are tempted to put up a Kobe Bryant poster in your room, remember it's fine, because athletes are role models too.