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Green: Professionals, not role models (Feb. 15)

Mary Green | Friday, February 15, 2013


Yesterday morning, I woke up with a gasp to breaking news: “Oscar Pistorius, double-amputee Olympic runner, arrested on charge of murdering his girlfriend.” 

Was this the same Pistorius who inspired millions of viewers, handicapped and able-bodied alike, this summer with his performance on the track in London? How could the Blade Runner be the lone suspect thus far in a case in which his girlfriend was shot four times inside his home?

Now, I’m not going to berate Pistorius for a crime for which he has yet to be found guilty. But this situation does bring up a pertinent truth that we must address, especially here in America: We glorify our athletes too much.

For the things which athletes do within the arena of competition, they deserve our unending praise. We should be in awe of both a star’s success in games or races and the amount of work he put in to place himself in that position. The best and most decorated handle pressure so well that it makes me wonder how they have yet to explode. 

But this expectation for them to be perfect is not fair to us, the fans and admirers and certainly not fair to the athletes themselves.

The players we idolize have better-than-average genes, an incredible work ethic and an unabating will to win that propels them to victory. At their core, though, they are still human and therefore still prone to err. Regardless of how many MVP titles they’ve earned or how many championships they’ve won, they are flawed creatures like everyone else.

Whether a person is a movie star, pop star, or all-star, we shouldn’t trust that he or she will remain perfect and mistake-free, and we shouldn’t be shocked when they finally do stumble.

A fall from grace wouldn’t be as devastating for fans if we stop idealizing every aspect of our favorite athletes’ lives. They face temptation as much as we do, and for many, it is only a matter of time before this temptation gets the best of them.

Imagine yourself 10 years ago, and think of which sports figures you loved and admired most at that time. This list undoubtedly includes a few now-shadowy names for a lot of fans. Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Mark McGwire. Just a decade back, it seemed that these athletes offered the best side of America, the side we wanted to show the world. They were talented, hard-working, and successful. Today, it’s difficult to think of them without calling to mind their most recent transgressions.

Of course, there are plenty of players who avoid scandal and offer glimmers of hope for the rest of their contemporaries. Larry Fitzgerald, Drew Brees and Sidney Crosby come to mind immediately, and there are still many more like them. 

But we cannot count on every athlete to live an exemplary lifestyle on which we can base our own. Any person, athletically-inclined or not, can fall prey to temptation, can make mistakes, and can turn out to be a different person than we originally thought or maybe just hoped.

Charles Barkley summed it up perfectly in his now-infamous 1993 Nike Air commercial. He stated, “I am not a role model … just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

But perhaps Barkley is one of the best models we have. He understands his limitations and his flaws and accepts them as a natural part of his life. He thrived while knowing that he, and no other athlete, is perfect. It’s time that we stopped expecting them to be.

Contact  Mary Green at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.