Elite athletes are constantly under a media microscope and are considered role models in the eyes of society regardless if it is something they desire. In a world where the tragic stories of Aaron Hernandez and Oscar Pistorious are what’s spread over the television or news of the performance enhancing drug scandals of Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez and most recent Tyson Gay are the top stories, it is easy to question if athletes should be considered role models.
So often the media focuses their attention on the negatives of sport rather than the positive. In a society that places importance on the number of twitter followers rather than performance, I think it is time that athletes step up and take being a role model more seriously. Obviously, as we have seen all athletes are human and are not immune to making wrong life choices. Because of this it is even more important for us to reach out to our communities and give kids something positive to emulate.
Many athletes have already worked towards making improvements in their society. 2012 Gold medalist and all around amazing person Tianna Bartoletta has created Club 360 which teaches young girls to live with three core principles; integrity, honor and self-respect. I can attest to the fact that Tianna lives by the values she is instilling in these young girls and is helping to raise well rounded women. It is clear that Tianna understands there is more to life than sport and uses her athlete platform wisely as an avenue to inspire and change the world one girl at a time. Not only has she encouraged young girls to make improvements in their lives, she has also inspired me with her contagious passion for what she is doing.
Tianna is just one example of many athletes who have already taken issues into their own hands. KaraPatterson 2-time Olympian and American Record holder just recently selflessly took time away from knee rehab and training to spend countless hours coaching future Olympic throwers at the Iron Wood Camp. She was not alone, alongside of her were many Olympians and World Team members sharing their passion for throwing with hundreds of young impressionable kids.
I have also witnessed the incredible change and impact athletes can have on youth in our communities with the Pen Pal Project my teammate Jamie Greubel and I have been running. This program connected the Boys and Girls Club kids with athletes at the Olympic Training Center. By writing a simple letter each week the athletes have given the kids someone positive that they can look up to and draw inspiration from for their futures. The athletes have given these kids an outlet to express any issues they have in their lives and have given them an opportunity to have fun and just be kids. It was refreshing to see the smiles on each and every one of the kids faces as they met their pen pals for lunch this past Friday.
No matter if it is something as small as writing a letter or as time consuming as week at camp, athletes can make a huge impact with any community involvement they have. Whenever athletes have an opportunity to touch a life regardless of what avenue it is they should take full advantage of it. We are looked up to whether we like it or not so let’s choose the positive legacy we want to leave.