Athletes in the news is nothing new – the stories about them fill sports websites, become featured reels on Sports Center, wind up on the bottom line on CNN and fill gossip columns with content.
The majority of the news is positive – athletic accomplishments, record-breaking performances, community service (NBA Cares for example), love stories, etc. Sadly, the good news is often overshadowed by the stupidity, immaturity and childishness exhibited by a small percentage of super star athletes.
Lately, there have been numerous examples of overshadowing including Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriquez.
While I don’t excuse the behavior of either one of them, I am frustrated by the consistent refrains of “How could he? He was my child’s hero” or “I am so disappointed in him – I thought my children could look up to him”.
Several sports commentators have addressed this exact issue by essentially reminding listeners that parents have to be parents, regardless of which athletes their children admire. One commentator shared his own history as an example. He said that he had been a huge fan of the 1986 Mets and despite his admiration for Darryl Strawberry, he knew that using cocaine wasn’t a good idea. He talked about how his parents encouraged him to admire the team, and its players, but also realize that they are human and they could make mistakes.
Was Phelps an idiot to smoke up at a party? Yup. Was A-Rod stupid to use performance enhancing substances? Of course! Both are incredibly talented and they risked throwing it away for no good reason. They are athletes and, to some, heroes and role models. Should they both realize that kids look up to them? Of course. Should they take this responsibility seriously and act accordingly? I think so. However, does this make them superhuman or immune to screwing up on occasion? No.
I was running a program for 13 year old girls when it came out that Vanessa Hudgens had sent naked pictures of herself to a boyfriend. Several of the girls came in saying things like “I’m never going to see another one of her movies”, “I can’t believe I used to like her”, and “I don’t think I can forgive her”. I told them to take a deep breath and I asked them whether they would want to be treated that way for doing something in private that unintentionally became public. I asked them whether what she did was really that awful and I reminded them that she was a young girl, in love with a boy, and that despite the fact that she was a “High School Musical” star, she wasn’t a robot who would always do the right thing. It started a long conversation about how we choose our role models and whether or not their behavior directly affects us or not. The majority of the girls decided that they could admire someone, even look up to them as role models, without expecting them to be perfect.
Obviously, this particular situation with Vanessa Hudgens is vastly different — she didn’t do anything illegal and she doesn’t have the same superstar status of Phelps or A-Rod.
I guess what I am trying to say with all of this babble is that it isn’t Michael Phelps job or A-Rod’s job or Vanessa Hudgen’s job to raise our children. It isn’t their responsibility to teach our children right from wrong. As adults, our job is to teach children respect, responsibility, love, empathy, compassion, etc. We should want them to look up to people, to have heroes and role models but we should also be ready to follow-up with lessons and advice when those people fall. We can share the lesson that people make mistakes and the way that they handle them and learn from them is what counts.