Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Even if I don't have to worry about this yet....

Rachel has blogged about it. Ambrose has too. And you can read about it everywhere from People to ESPN to CNN.

The recent bad behavior of athletes is, to say the least a huge turn-off. Especially to parents. Me included. But this is not a new battle. Yes, we may not see many more Wayne Gretzkys--who we call the Great One not just for the player he was on the ice, but the man he is off of it-- or Cal Ripken Jrs. or Lou Gehrigs but let's be honest, this has been going on for YEARS.

Back in 1919-- Joseph Jefferson aka Shoeless Joe-- Jackson and his teammates earned the nickname the Black Sox after throwing a World Series. And let's not forget my team, the Yankees had Micky Mantle (among others) who was a notorious philanderer, alcoholic, and absentee father. Too bad the winner of the 1961 home-run race, teammate Roger Maris-- a faithful husband, devoted father and regular mass-attending Catholic--isn't as widely revered. And the list goes on and into other sports as well.

In the early 90's NBA player (and bad boy) Charles Barkley was the star people loved to hate. But Barkley made no bones that he wasn't a role model, in fact, he launched an entire ad campaign about it. He was urging parents to be their children's primary role models and discouraging the hero-worship of athletes.

This anti-hero campaign enraged parents, educators and lots of other people. But I remember my father saying, "You know, he's got a point." I remember that campaign years later because what Barkley was trying to do was admirable. Bad behavior shouldn't be tolerated but we, as parents shouldn't be encouraging our children to look to athletes or actors as role models. These people are high profile, no doubt, but are human and foul up. Some of them, a lot. What we should be admiring about them is the good qualities they possess IE- drive, work ethic, charity, humility (which is in rare supply among all of us these days). But that should not become a worship of that person.

I was talking about Charles Barkley before, do you remember who the antithesis (according to the media and ad campaigns) was in the NBA. Ding, ding, ding! You're right it was Michael Jordan. He could do no wrong. He could retire from the NBA and then come back. He could go play minor league baseball and make a stupid-silly space-basketball movie. He sold millions of dollars in merchandising. I live in Michael Jordan's hometown. His star has tarnished a bit. When he was working for/playing with the Washington Wizards, he brought them to town. He skipped out on bills at restaurants and had a flagrant affair that went front page in the National Enquirer. And while he is certainly responsible for his actions, we are somewhat responsible for his thinking he could get away with it. We idolized him. We bought his stuff. We started fan clubs and told him he could do no wrong. About the only people in life who didn't treat him that way were his father, James (RIP) and the Laney High School coach who cut him from varsity. We all used to say, "Wow, you know that coach is feeling stupid." But when the jig was up, we were left feeling awfully used and foolish ourselves.

My husband idolized Mickey Mantle as a kid. This went on long into adulthood, but, the moment my husband most talks about when he talks about Mickey is not about a great play made in a game but about a press conference that occurred years after Mantle had stopped playing when he was in failing health and broken down and in desperate need of a liver transplant. At the news conference Mantle addressed the idea of being a role model and flat out said, "I'm not a role model." He went onto say why: God had given him the body and the talent and he had abused and wasted both. He said this through tears. He had realized this too late.

And women are not exempt from this either. Marion Jones served time for using performing enhancing drugs and lying and was stripped of her Olympic medals. And there was this figure skater who hired a thug to take out her competition.

I am a huge sports fan. If there is a TV with hockey on, I'm probably in front of it. If it's Saturday in the fall, we are watching college football. No one cheers louder for a Yankee World Series victory. And I'm raising little fanatics myself. But, I plan on keeping them in check about idolizing the gridiron Gods and ice kings. I'll probably allow posters and for sure jerseys, but I plan to teach them how to be a good person without using Gary Goal-tender or Bobby Batter as an example. I will refrain from referring to a person I have never met as a humanitarian or without a doubt a role model.

1 comment:

Ambrose said...

Sports make life fun. For me, with Big Ben, the crushing blow is that early in his NFL career, like his first season, he got in trouble for having PFJ (play for Jesus) on his shoes. I think everyone knew he wasn't a saint (like Troy), and that he did like to pound beers at local dive bars in his off-time. With now two ahem incidents in the news, PFJ seems like a long time ago.