Athletes Need To Earn Role Model Status


Role Model Description Does Not Fit Every Athlete

By John Ventola

While there are some bad things that happen sporadically in sports, the social and physical benefits to society far exceed those shortcomings. Thankfully, the ultimate no-no, murder involving an athlete, does not happen often in American sport, but the rash of headlines and media coverage detailing drug and domestic abuse, steroid use, and shady, personal, business dealings, are cause to pause and reflect on who we are calling a role model.

We bandy around the term “role model” too freely. Just as there are many persons who earn the expression of praise by everything they do both on the field and off (Drew


Tarnished Image Not Acceptable

Brees, Derek Jeter, etc.), there are also an ever increasing number of individuals who have shown unscrupulous, felonious, behavior (O.J. Simpson, Aaron Hernandez, Rae Carruth, murder), and unsavory conduct toward their families (Ray Rice, domestic abuse), teammates (Pete Rose, gambling), and fans (numerous steroid using cheaters, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens).

Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson was an American sports icon after running wild at USC, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1968, and going on to a record-breaking rushing career with the professional Buffalo Bills. Subsequently, he moved on to television, movies, and commercials where he used his famous moves to swerve through airports to get to the rental car counter. “Hertz” to even think of it today, and the trial that exonerated him of the murders of his wife Nicole, and young, Ronald Goldman. His white Bronco chase (please remember the real O.J.) made that vehicle the most famous White Bronco until Peyton Manning joined Denver nineteen years later.

Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Rae Carruth (1997-1999) was found guilty of shooting and murdering his eight month pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams in 1999 and is now in jail. Miraculously, the child lived. In the last year and a half, New England tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with three counts of murder in the Boston area. His trials are pending. While it can be argued that the Simpson, Carruth, and Hernadez murder charges show a low percentage of major felonious crimes committed by athletes, lower than the national average, it does show there are breakdowns in the lives of current and former players for one reason or another.

Apparently, the Panthers’ football locker room was quite a hangout in the late ‘90s. Running back Fred Lane, a teammate of Carruth’s, was shot and killed by his wife Deidra after Lane allegedly beat her numerous times. Maybe Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice should take a look at the Lane case and really learn how to treat his new bride (who surprisingly married Rice after the domestic abuse charge).

Rice held a press conference yesterday to talk about the incident with his then fiancée, now wife, and reflect on his two game suspension to start the upcoming year. It was a self-serving, excuse filled commentary on his poor upbringing by a single mother, his inexcusable action with his wife (which he refused to discuss), the people he had let down (thought he listed everyone but the ushers at the Ravens’ stadium), and on and on, ad nauseum.

When his rambling stopped, and reporters asked him direct questions, all Rice could say was, “Honestly…” and then refuse to give honest answers. During his lame

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On Field Performance Important, Off Field Behavior More So

apology, he glossed over meaningful information as he tried to touch on every talking point he had been coached to address.

When he mentioned he realized he was a “role model” and would work on turning his life around, I had to hit the off button. Role model? Far from it. A football player?Yes. A role model? Don’t think so.

It is time that sports fans hold our athletes to a stricter code of conduct and refuse to go along with believing the make believe accounts put out by coaches, sports information directors, and professional teams’ public relations departments. Face it, they are hired to fashion their own versions of events to cover-up for a player’s lapse of judgment. Sadly, it is happening more often as player adulation and acceptance gives athletes the feeling of physical prowess on the field and social invincibility off of it.

Lesson for all of us is to remember that we are watching pampered, glorified 18 to 22 year olds play collegiately, and that those older and fortunate enough to reach professional status have been coddled, given the benefit of any doubt, and basically taken care of their entire lives by overzealous parents, and coaches. Behavior problems, drug offenses, anti-societal tendencies are all overlooked, or accepted. All in the quest for the almighty “W”. After all, winning coaches continue to coach, losing coaches look for another job, step down to an assistant position, or retire.

It is a little tiring to see these bad characters give sports a bad rap, and take away from the life lessons that can be learned by all of society. Just tonight, late night TV host Conan O’Brien included the following in his comedy monologue, and I paraphrase, “There is a survey reported by the NFL that crime goes down drastically during game time in a hosting city. Apparently, all the criminals are busy playing in the game”.

Sports, if they are taught, learned, played and followed using a level-headed approach, are good for society. There are more positives than negatives involved with sports, particularly in the United States. We definitely need to hold our athletes accountable for their off field behavior. And refuse to praise them if they fall short in any way.

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