October 1, 2015

DENSON | Why Athletes Should Be Our Role Models

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By BEN DENSON

I was almost finished with a column about the sexual escapades of Wilt Chamberlain when I came across Shane Lewis’ column titled “Athletes Are People, Too.” Although I’d love to finish writing an in-depth analysis of Chamberlain’s promiscuity, I just had to respond to Shane’s article. Now that we both learned we could use expletives in our columns, I figured why the fuck not?

To start, I respectfully disagree with you, Shane. Athletes are considered role models because they are held to a higher standard. We put them on a pedestal due to their extreme talent and determination to find perfection. Pete Rose’s ban is from a long-standing MLB statute created by former Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Gambling was rampant in the early days of baseball and after the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, former circuit Judge Landis restored the public’s confidence in the sport. As America’s pastime, cheating destroyed the moral purity of the beautiful sport.

In the modern era, players are scrutinized like none other by the media. Given their abilities, platform to voice opinions and high salaries, athletes are role models. The million dollar salaries support this fact. We ordinary people aspire to reach their level of achievement. A professional athlete is at the pinnacle of his or her career.

I love sir Charles Barkley, but the NBA royal is wrong in his opinion on the “professional athletes should not be role models” debate. Chuck can say he isn’t a role model as much as he wants, but it’s hard to deny the fact that millions of people listen to his words almost every night on Inside the NBA on TNT. Riddle me this — if Charles Barkley is not a role model than why was he extremely vocal during the Ferguson Riots, stating a strong opinion and respectfully disagreeing with his black colleague Kenny Smith, while Ernie Johnson uncomfortably nodded his head. Are you really going to argue that these men are not role models when their opinions are valued on aspects outside of sports?

Humans have an irrational tendency to look for guidance in life when insecurity and uncertainty creep up as they always do. Being in the media spotlight and displaying some degree of excellence, professional athletes involuntarily steer the moral compass of millions of devout fans. Neither Charles Barkley nor Pete Rose are priests, but both men answer to the higher calling of fandom.

Where we do agree, Shane, is on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye’s album is near-perfection. While I won’t be campaigning for Kanye West 2020, both you and I recognize his musical genius. Like all celebrities, athletes very much so included, West is a role model because he has reached the greatness in his respective field, much like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, LeBron James and Tiger Woods. However, in Kanye’s case, it is hard to look to someone for guidance who calls himself “Shakespeare in the flesh.”

All I can say to Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods is sorry. I’m sorry, Kobe, that you were once admired by billions all over the world for your superhuman abilities, only to be vilified and discredited because of one of the worst allegations a public figure can be accused of. See, because they are the world’s greatest at what they do, they are role models by default.

Let’s appeal to emotion and use the rags-to-riches cliche. A vast majority of professional athletes in the MLB, NBA and NFL (sorry hockey, but you’re an expensive sport) came from impoverished areas across the world and particularly in the United States. If LeBron James isn’t a role model for using his talent to makes millions of dollars and be thought of as the greatest athlete today, then I’m not sure what a role model is. In my younger and purer days, I looked to Derek Jeter and Allen Iverson as role models, because they were just so visible. As we know, Iverson wasn’t the best choice for a role model, as evidence by how I turned out. I can’t help but crack up as I write this.

Athletes are held accountable to moral actions because they arenot our friends, Shane Lewis. While I agree with you that an athlete smoking pot is no big deal, society disagrees with us. If these athletes are investments with millions of dollars being attached to his or her name, then they should not be tainting their valuable body with detrimental substances. We all smoke weed at Cornell. That doesn’t make us scumbags, but of course, we are not role models. Maybe you and I should burn sometime and discuss the morality of professional athletes. I can’t speak for you, but if I were a professional athlete, I would not be seen as “the most morale athlete” in the eyes of media. With my Jewish height and build, I’ll never be considered athletic, but I do strive to be a good person.

People look past our faults because no one cares. The world owes us nothing and in turn, the world does not pay attention to us. We admire athletes because in a sense, we strive to be like them. We strive to find the euphoria that one experiences in sports and the irrational emotion us fans have towards a given player turns us into judgmental beings.

When an athlete does something seen as bad on the scale of morality, I think a small piece of us becomes disillusioned. When former MLB Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun was caught doping, a little piece of my conscious became disillusioned. May­be I put too much faith in people. While athletes are not paid to be role models, they end up taking that stage as one of the more prominent role models in our society.

So Shane, I really enjoyed reading your column but I must respectfully disagree with your main point. Yes, athletes may appreciate it if we didn’t dismiss them because of a dumb mistake, but being a role model is one side effect that comes with the fame of being a professional athlete. Not all athletes are good role models (see Michael Vick), but we’re lucky to have a dozen or so that can help steer our moral compass. My favorite athlete-role model is Shaq — who’s yours?

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