In today?s world, sport stars and other athletes are looked up to by all ages. Everyone loves them. They look great in the eyes of the everyday public. They appear on television, they perform like rock stars, and do this with the entire world watching. No wonder we make heroes out of our favorites. They are seen, as heroes because they can do things that most of us can?t. They hit fastballs at 95 mph, leap at balls in mid air, or defy gravity and throw down a dunk. Their words are repeated and broadcasted throughout the world and their faces have appeared on the front of cereal boxes. But if you examine athletes while they?re not on the court or on the field, you can see what they are like in every dimension. Athletes have many positive and negative sides that affect their public face and both benefit and harm their abilities to become role models.
The athlete as role model is by no means a new issue. In fact it is quite ancient. As distant as 800 B.C., when the Olympics were first played in Greece, the athletes all paid homage to the Greek God Zeus. Olympia was originally on the sacred site of Gaia. Sports were started as a religious ritual and the athlete was considered a demi-god, representing both the spectator and the gods. In Roman times 2000 years ago, athletes represented the state during the gladiator games and chariot races. They were seen as soldiers who reassured the citizen that the nation was strong. Today, athletes are not considered to be religious figures but nonetheless are accorded great material wealth, privilege, and fame. These figures are visible to us on a weekly basis. Because of their talent, salary, and positions as leaders, it?s inevitable that we admire and identify them with such integrity (Ferraro).
Courage and determination aren?t the only lessons we can learn from successful athletes. Some of the best athletes in history are the ones who can take their achievements in stride. You have to love a sport in order to do it well. Hard-working and motivated people understand that winning isn?t everything. Leading a team in homeruns or 3-pointers, is meaningless when compared to one just giving his/hers best shot at it. Champion distance runner Joan Benoit says, ?Winning is neither everything nor the only thing. It is one of many things? (Globus).
Athletes have made many contributions to society over the years. Los Angles Rams linebacker George Andrews is one example. Andrews stood outside the principle?s office at Douglas Macarthur Fundamental Intermediate School in Santa Ana, watching about three hundred sixth graders file into the auditorium for his anti-drug speech. ?I think you can give kids a positive role model, it helps.? Andrews said (Berkow). All professional teams in the L.A. area have Adopt a School programs, in which athletes meet with students and stress getting an education and staying off drugs (Berkow).
Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox is another pro athlete who has done good deeds especially for kids with disabilities. Wakefield ran a golf tournament (Tim Wakefield Celebrity Golf Classic) in Jan. 1993 and raised $40,275 for the Space Coast Early Intervention Center, which would have closed down in July of 1992 if it weren?t for the head of the center, Betsy Farmer, a close friend of Wakefield. In the past eight years, Wakefield has raised $1,127,704 for the organization, which has subsequently blossomed into one of the nation?s leading facilities in helping children with disabilities; mainly Down Syndrome. Tim said this about the organization: ?I?m very fortunate to be living a dream and making the money I am, so why not give it to someone who really needs it??(Horrigan).
In 1989, about 8,000 schoolchildren from the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys, carried red, white, and blue balloons that read ?JUST SAY NO? into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA for an anti-drug rally (Simross). This is just one program invented into helping young students realize how negative drugs are. Ira David Wood founded an eight-month leadership program designed for high school athletes. ?Leadership by inspiration is just one event of the eight month program. The program involves experiences designed specifically to use as many as the participants, senses as possible. When they can see it, feel it hear it and smell it then a memory is created, and a memory means they?ll have a recall. Student-athletes involved in the program participate in police ride-alongs and mock city-council meetings; they solve community problems and tutor and coach elementary students (Kurek).
When we look at athletes, we tend to see that not all that they do is good. Yes they are supposed to be role models and present the youth with positive vibes. But in reality, they do as much bad as they do good. In the news all the time, we hear about people like Darryl Strawberry and his multiple convictions of use of cocaine. Although he?s just one of the many pro athletes who are in the same boat, their actions affect younger student-athletes, specifically in high school. A survey in Chicago, done by the Chicago Sun Times, found that more than 50% of Chicago area student-athletes said that drinking among their peers is a bigger problem than most people realize (Survey). Play sports by day, get drunk at night, and go to class in the morning. Is this an accurate picture of student-athletes today? 80% of high school senior drink alcohol in the 50 states of America. Student-athletes attend parties, consume some beer, and their parents and coaches have no clues about it (Survey). Where do the kids get the ?ok? to do this? Yes, peer pressure is a problem, but by hearing and seeing professional athletes day in and day out getting in trouble for drugs and alcohol, kids will think it ok.
Although student-athletes are involved in this, some places are doing something about it. In North Andover, MA for example. Student-athletes will lose their right to play just for being in the presence of alcohol or drugs (Ogden). As it stands, athletes caught actually drinking or doing drugs face a two-game or two-week suspension from play (Ogden).
Misbehavior is always present in sports and fans can be aware of that. But what are the rights and needs of the fans? Should they be mad when they see this misbehavior? For most fans, their only contract with this will be found in the rules of sports and in fair play on the playing field and by the athlete. Athletes can?t have their cake and eat it too.
If they want the love from the fans, then they better not misbehave. When the media gets involved, some say that they should just report the news. But this is like saying when they score a touchdown don?t celebrate. The media can voice their moral position. In doing so, they are very straightforward. The media has an obligation to define issues, report wrongdoing, and at times act as a moral barometer for the sport culture (Ferraro).
Star athletes learn from their mistakes as well as from their successes. They have what it takes to be a winner. Top athletes are constantly striving to improve. What?s more, they can stay focused, often under intense pressure. (Who can forget Kerri Strug?s stunning vault, despite an injured leg, that sent her team to a gold medal finish at the 1996 Olympics?) It?s fine to admire Michael Jordan?s wizardry on the court or Picabo Street?s finesse on the slopes. To rise to the top, it takes countless hours of practice to fine-tune the skills needed to accomplish your goals (Globus).
Another major factor that athletes put on society is the strength they show when the odds are against them. For example, Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins. After being diagnosed with cancer, he continued his career in the NHL. Not only is he one of the greatest to ever play hockey, he?s achieved his goals while missing a respectable amount of games (Globus). Another example could be former Olympian Wilma Rudolph. Born with polio, doctors said that it could prevent her from walking. She played basketball and ran track at 13 and competed in the 56 Olympics as a sophomore in high school. Positive thinking goes hand and hand with these athletes. Great athletes can focus on the task at hand. They can become fully focused and arrive feeling like a winner before they even begin to compete (Globus).
Athletes who are champions also show qualities such as perseverance, dedication, and the ability to keep their cool under pressure. Stories about superstar athletes teach us about working hard and believing in ourselves and being passionate about what we do. Many high-profile players work hard to be positive role models to children. In addition, they raise money for charities and act as mentors, talking to groups and volunteering their time to programs that help kids stay away from drugs and alcohol (Globus).
They get paid millions of dollars for their efforts, and their names and faces appear on everything from running shoes to billboards. Still, even the greatest champions have flaws. Just because someone has a perfect swing, it doesn?t mean that he?s a good friend, parent, or spokesperson. Just because they?re rich and famous, doesn?t mean they don?t face problems like the rest of us do. Just because they have such an image, doesn?t mean that they don?t get sick and have to stay in bed. However, separating an athlete?s professional and personal life can be quite difficult. Fans do get disappointed when athletes get in trouble with the law or make crucial mistakes in their personal lives. Before he died, the great Mickey Mantle, who was a raging alcoholic, told young ball players, ?play like me; don?t be like me? (Globus). The sports world gets shocked ever time it hears of such a thing like Roberto Alomar spitting in an umpire?s face or Mike Tyson being accused of rape. As these stories arrive, questions form in the minds of fans across the country. Who are athletes really role models for? Is the media overacting to these stories? (Ferraro)
In conclusion, athletes inspire and encourage as well as bring upon a bad influence on society today. They know what they are in the spotlight to do and by all means they accomplish it. Good and bad come out of sports and with today?s media; it?s swallowed up and spit out in many different forms. Everyone out there is watching and for a prime time athlete, every decision is monitored. The athlete as a role model is not an issue; it?s a part of everyday life.