The Unfortunate Status of Athletes: Reluctant Role Models

Daryl HenryContributor IOctober 2, 2010

LEBANON - JANUARY 14: New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress tries to warm his hand as arrives at the Lebanon County Courthouse January 14, 2009 in Lebanon, Pa.  Burress is scheduled to appear in a civil trial in a dispute with an automobile dealer over what he owes in damages to a vehicle supplied to him by the dealership. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Chris Gardner/Getty Images

It’s hard to feel bad for guys that rope in upwards of one million dollars a year, yet I do.  Who of us want to be under this kind of public scrutiny: anyone in the world can know the details of how much money we make, and what we do in our free time, and call out for us to get fired?  Vincent Jackson and Darelle Revis hold out for more money, we call them greedy.  Tiger Woods has affairs with an incredible amount of women, sportswriters and the public scream out for apologies because of the bad influence he has on our children.  Forget the fact that most of these guys are in their twenties, when did these people become responsible for the moral well-being of our youth?

                Let me be clear, I don’t advocate the seedy behaviors of athletes.  It’s a dumb idea to take a gun into a nightclub, host dogfights, or cheat on your wife multiple times.  But these people aren’t famous for their incredible decision making abilities; they’re famous because they’re over six feet tall and can run faster than anyone else in a room.  When and why did we become obsessed with the way that they live their life off the field? 

                There are a lot of things I think you could try to point the finger at for why this happened.  24-7 television coverage, higher divorce rates, diminishing good family units, and a lack of good role models are a few good ones.  In some ways, the same things that make it possible for athletes to have such lucrative salaries are the same things that put them under such an intense spotlight.  Even so, somewhere along the line, I think the American Public misplaced their moral beacon and put it on these guys to lead us through the moral dark.  In Greek society, these athletes would be gladiators, but today we don’t read about what the gladiators thought were the ideal ways to live life: we take our guidance from Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. 

                Let’s remind ourselves what these guys get paid to do: play a game for the public’s entertainment.  They’re not artists making comments about how we live our life in today’s society.  If one of them chooses to stand up and make a statement about society, then sure, let’s make sure their walk matches their talk.  But the vast majority of them want to go to work, and talk about what they do for their work.  That’s no different from your neighbor that runs a restaurant, or sells insurance, and when one of these people is part of a scandal, it’s a social miscue to prod too much into these dark moments when it’s not our place.  For these athletes, we need to offer them the same grace as much as possible: the chance to live a life without public judgment, and the chance to mourn for their mistakes in private, and the chance for atonement without unneeded embarrassment.