The Role Model in Professional Sports

Josh McCainSenior Writer IJanuary 7, 2010

PHOENIX - DECEMBER 19:  Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards hanldles the ball during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 19, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Wizards 121-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Here in the Nation's Capitol, the second most talked about sports story is that Gilbert Arenas felt one of the best places to store his fire arms was his NBA locker at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C.

This has sparked a slew of conversation both locally and nationally.

I have given little concern towards it because there are so few facts and most of what has been reported so far has been of the he said, she said variety.

However, this morning as I was driving into work one of the local radio stations decided to do a call in poll. They asked two questions.

The first, "was the league to hard on Gil?"

And the second, "would you still allow your kids to have him as a role model?"

The second question immediately took me back to the old Nike commercials with Sir Charles Barkley and his "I'm no Role Model" motto.

He may or may not have wanted to be a role model, but his image was that of a bad boy, so the motto fit him perfectly.

However, whether an athlete wants to be role model or not isn't up to them.

Kids see what these men and women do on the field of play and are mesmerized. Heck, I'm 27 years old and I'm still mesmerized by the things I witness.

When kids see these things they can't help but find adoration for these players, especially if that child wants to strive and become a professional athlete one day.

So at a time in our sports history where just about any information you want about an athlete is available just by using Google, I ask, can professional athletes still be role models for kids?

The answer, yes they can.

For every lap in judgement by an athlete like say Tiger Woods or Gilbert Arenas, there are plenty of guys who haven't made (publicly at least) those mistakes.

And even with Gil's and Tiger's poor judgement, it doesn't diminish what they've done in their sports.

I have never wanted to know anything personal about those I cheer for or those I watch on the big screen or in concert.

These mythical figures that we root for are not always the people we think they are and the more we learn about them the less fantastical they appear.

A child, though, only really watches what that athlete does on the field. He or she doesn't concern themselves with all the TMZ business that occurs once the final buzzard has sounded.

That little kid with the No. 0 Wizards jersey or the Nike golf clubs doesn't understand what their hero has done or (unless you've told them) doesn't even know they've done anything wrong.

Children have a blissful and innocent ignorance of the world around them. Every December 24th a fat man in a red suite brings them gifts, a fairy with wings brings them money for teeth.

It's a beautiful existence.

Eventually they'll figure out that these things are made up, and will learn how to access the Internet and will figure out how to get all the dirt on their favorite celebs, but before all that we should let them believe in these things.

This can make it hard on the parent to explain what has happened to their hero when they've been arrested or caught doing something they shouldn't have been, but as parents we encounter things like that all the time.

Sometimes we just have to explain things to our kids in the simplest ways possible.

"Daddy, why isn't Gilbert playing today?"

"Because he did something bad and is in timeout."

As parents we should try and steer children towards role models. But who knew Tiger would cheat on his wife with that many women (allegedly) and who knew Agent Zero would bring guns into the Wizards locker room?

My only advice, really, is that once your child decides what athlete they are going to adore, you need to just keep their attention focus on what that athlete does on the field. Don't let your kid get caught up in what they might do at the club at two in the morning.

At least then they can have a Santa Clause image of that athlete. That is, until they turn three and learn how to use the Internet.


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