It’s an age-old argument: Should pro athletes be expected to act as role models for young sports fanatics? I believe Chuck said it best in ’93, “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
This past weekend, four-time Pro Bowler and Dancing with the Stars 2011 winner Hines Ward was charged for DUI in DeKalb county Georgia. Representatives for Ward deny that the Steelers Wide Receiver was under the influence and offered an apology from Ward to his fans for the distraction. In my opinion, any distraction from this lockout is welcomed if it is going to remind us that there are still football players out there and the NFL wasn’t just some perfect entity I dreamed up on Sundays. But that’s for another day. After the news of the arrest, sportscasters began to question whether or not Ward’s legacy as a pro football player had been tarnished. To me, this is ludicrous. Hines Ward is not only a pro football player, but he is, believe it or not, a human being. Yes, pro athletes are human beings just like you and me.
Off the field, Ward has established his own foundation for children in South Korea who are born to parents of different races and resides on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Quite the off-field resume. On the field, Ward boasts being a two-time Super Bowl champion, not to mention being named the MVP in both contests. Ward is also a four-time Pro Bowler and holds multiple receiving records for the Steelers, where he’s played his whole career. These are the attributes that a player should be remembered for, not a momentary lapse of reason such as a DUI. Just ask Orenthal about momentary lapses of reason. Okay, maybe you shouldn’t.
Juxtapose Ward with athletes like Adam “Pacman” Jones, who was also arrested over the weekend for disorderly conduct in a Cincinnati bar. Jones is an example of why pro athletes shouldn’t be lionized as heroes or role models. Time and time again, Pacman has proven to the public why athletes should not be held to the high standards society has placed on them (this weekend’s arrest was number seven since being drafted into the league in 2005). Given that Pacman has already played for three teams and was once suspended for an entire season, it’s easy to see him being shunned from both the public and ultimately the NFL itself.
Are parents really concerned that their children will grow up like Pacman Jones, or think it’s cool to get a DUI. Shouldn’t parents be the main role models in their children’s lives? Of course. When I was a child I always looked up to Troy Aikman more than I did my father, but only because he threw a football on T.V. Mr. Aikman didn’t teach me how to tie my shoes or ride a bike. In other words, I knew the difference between who my male figure was in life and whose jersey I wanted to wear. Not that I believe that all parents rely on pro athletes to set standards or raise their kids, but I do think there is a heavy burden placed on pro athletes to showcase exemplary role model behavior. Ultimately, this is a disservice to children because many of these guys are simply unfit for the role. They are just immature millionaires, often the same age as your average frat guy guzzling a beer bong from a third-story balcony. They lack the capacity to realize the impact they have on our youth.
So while Ward and players like him do possess qualities that are ideal for a role model, they are going to make a mistake or two along the way. But their reputation as a pro football player shouldn’t be called into question for a fumble off the field. Parents should use the examples of Ward and Pacman in a productive way, explaining the difference between a mistake and a man whose incorrigibility is leading him to destruction. Not that there is anything wrong with Santa Claus, believing in the tooth fairy, or knowing in your heart that pro athletes are really gods among men, brought down from the heavens to teach the lesser mortals the right way. But in today’s information age, kids will learn that a black and white world is actually a big grey mess. So why perpetuate the myth? Shun the consistent wrong-doers, commend the honorable, and try your best to explain that murky stuff in between.