Northeastern University’s Sport in Society organization attempts to use sport to create positive social change. I follow them on Twitter and usually I agree with most of the tweets that they create but today they tweeted the following tweet concerning Ryan Braun’s suspension from Major League Baseball for steroid use, which I strongly disagree with:
In the linked article Braun is quoted as saying “I have always taken tremendous pride in my image and my reputation in being a role model and handling myself the right way and doing things the right way. And all of that has been called into question by this situation” to which he was referring the first time that he was accused of using banned substances. I think Braun hits the nail on the head when he uses the words ‘image’ and ‘reputation’ because these are constructed realities – they are not necessarily actual reality. As the late basketball player and coach, John Wooden said “Character is what you are, reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Lance ArmstrongWe (and by this I mean society) love to think that the people we watch and idolize are in fact role models but what boggles my mind is why we assume that just people someone is good at baseball or basketball, or is funny or pretty they are suddenly also a good person. People don’t usually become professional athletes because they want to be role models. They become professional athletes because they want to win, they are good at their sport, and there is a lot of money up for grabs. If someone we idolize happens to be a good person then great, we hit the jackpot. However, to hold everyone who hits or kicks a ball to the same standard is unrealistic. We continue to act surprised and wag our finger at athletes, actors, singers etc. for being bad role models for our children when there is no pre-requisite that professional entertainers have any moral standards. And what does it say about our society when people who have no actual contact with our children are considered role models right along side parents, teachers and coaches?
Personally, I think it is safer if we separate aspects of a person to idolize from the whole person. No one is perfect so why not idolize the parts of a person that we appreciate and respect. The other parts just make them human. We can idolize one athlete for his/her community service but they might not be the best player on the team. We can idolize another for the legacy he/she has created for their sport but maybe they generally show poor sportsmanship. I also find it interesting that people get up in arms when athletes do everything possible to win. We revere winners. We create statues and parades to celebrate winners. We have history books with lists of winners – not participants. The ones who win are the ones with the biggest pay cheques; therefore, if we have created an industry that privileges winning at all costs (i.e. mental, physical, emotional, social) how can we fault someone for risking everything to be the best, or at least their personal best? If we really cared about an honest process I think the celebrities we would idolize would be very different from the ones who currently dominate the spotlight.