In 2010, it seems as if more players than ever were convicted of inappropriate, immoral, or illegal activities. Thirty years ago, this was never the case.
Players were considered to be good role models towards their fans and played their respective sports with integrity and respect.
Tim Wood, of the Bleacher Report, has went far enough to make a list of the Top 20 players who have fallen from grace. On his list, Wood (not to be confused with Tiger Woods) includes players such as Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Ben Roethlisberger Floyd Landis, Tiger Woods, Lawrence Taylor, Marion Jones, and OJ Simpson.
As I was reading through the list, I couldn’t believe how many different things these players were convicted for: failed drug tests, rape, murder, dogfighting.
You would think top athletes would be under so much pressure from their agents and team to be great role models, but unfortunately the opposite is the case. Many sports, especially basketball and football, embrace a culture that can get players into trouble.
According to a survey conducted by the NFL in 2009, 10 percent of all current NFL players take banned substances (such as HGH and anabolic steroids). It is perhaps more surprising that since 2002, only 33 players have been convicted for steroid use.
Every NFL team has 53 players and there are 32 teams in the league, so 1,696 players play in the NFL every season. If the NFL’s study is true and 10 percent of players do take banned substances, then approximately 170 players a season are taking banned substances.
Since players may be taking substances for more than one year, let’s assume that 350 players have taken steroids or HGH in the NFL since 2002. This means that only 10 percent of all players who take steroids will ever get caught by the NFL.
Chuck Klosterman, a columnist for ESPN Magazine, once wrote “people choose to ignore the relationship between performance enhancers and the NFL because it’s unquestionably the league where performance enhancers would have the biggest upside."
Players have to ask themselves what is more important: integrity or having the ability to be a Pro-Bowl Player?
This is the question Brian Cushing, the 2009 NFL Rookie of The Year must have asked himself.
Recently, Cushing was suspended four games for taking PED’s during his rookie campaign and was stripped of his Rookie of the Year Trophy, or so he thought. After a re-vote by the Associated Press, Cushing still came out on top and won the trophy.
By allowing a player who cheated to win the Rookie of the Year, the votes are showing that the NFL is a culture that embraces, not stops steroid use.
The risk and the consequence (only a four game suspension) is too low for any player to be deterred from taking PED’s.
After steroid use, extramarital affairs and sexual violence are probably the most rampant problem in sports.
According to Eddie George, a retired Pro-Bowl running back for the Tennessee Titans, “90 percent of all NFL athletes are having extramarital affairs.”
Although George’s prediction may be too high, there is no doubt a significant number of players will have affairs on the road.
There are many different reasons why players may resort to affairs and sex when married. Personal ego, loneliness, and brashness are some of the many possible reasons.
On the road, it is much easier for a player to not tell his wife about his affairs. Usually, a player may meet a girl at a bar or club, have sex with her, and then they would go their separate ways, not telling anyone what happened.
Players have also resorted to paying mistresses large sums of money to keep them from telling the tabloids what has happened.
Tiger Woods has been doing this for years and was only eventually caught by his wife, Elin, after she heard some of the voice mails on his phone.
Next thing everyone knew, the tabloids were all over the Tiger Woods story and mistress after mistress, looking for their 15 minutes of fame, revealed the truth.
There are plenty of players, such as Derek Jeter who undoubtedly have had sex with multiple women, but the key difference is that Jeter is a single man whereas Tiger is not.
In our culture, infidelity is one of the greatest crimes, perhaps at the level of murder or rape.
A couple is supposed to stay true to each other no matter how much one of them travels or how much money they have. It is too tempting for an athlete to have an affair with a women, but those who resist the temptations have become great role models, for fans and other athletes alike.
In sports, some of the most unlikely players have transcended the stigmas of sports being ridden with immorality and illegality and are great role models. Three of those athletes are Steve Nash, Tony Dungy, and Lance Armstrong.
Steve Nash, currently playing for the Phoenix Suns, has managed to become an All-Star in the NBA not because of PED’s, but instead because he works harder and plays with more energy than almost anyone in the game.
Nash has a knack for business ventures and philanthropy, and loves to think out of the box to make himself better as an athlete and a person.
Tony Dungy, the former Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, has been a great mentor to many struggling players in the NFL. He is most known for mentoring Michael Vick during and after his time in prison for dogfighting.
Instead of giving up on an athlete with tremendous talent, Dungy saw an opportunity to transform Vick into a model citizen. Since he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2009 season, Vick has not gotten into anymore trouble.
Great athletes can be reformed with the right guidance and support, and that is exactly what Dungy gave Vick.
One last example is Lance Armstrong.
After narrowly beating cancer (he was only given a 10 percent chance to live by his doctors), Armstrong has been able to win seven Tour de France titles in a row, one of the most impressive feats in all of sports.
Armstrong was able to accomplish this tremendous feat by working hours upon hours to make himself the best athlete he can be.
Armstrong has always said: “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”
Equally impressive is Armstrong’s charity work. With the help of Nike, Lance Armstrong launched the Livestrong foundation, which has raised over $250 million for cancer research since its inception in 1997.
These three athletes show there is still hope for athletes to be not only great players but only great people. There is no reason they can’t be both.