SJ Sports: Sports Figures as Role Models

by SJ Sports Club-Mike Shute | Jan 6, 2003
SJ Sports: Sports Figures as Role Models Years ago, former Philadelphia 76ers star Charles Barkley said, "I am not a role model." It was uttered in a national television advertisement for Nike, and it brought to light a rather important aspect of being a professional athlete. On one hand Barkley was right, but on the other, he was way off base. Sir Charles saw himself as just a basketball player and, ultimately, they're out to win games. But, thanks to the high-profile coverage that athletes get in the media, their actions, style and demeanor are often emulated by kids who are growing up playing the very same games. To this end, Barkley was mistaken.

Professional athletes are inherently role models by virtue of their job. But, Barkley had a tremendous work ethic and was never satisfied. His strength was rebounding, becoming one of the shortest players in NBA history to win a rebounding title. To accomplish that feat, it truly took hard work and determination. That's a positive impact he made even though he "was not a role model," nor ever wanted to be. The media often ignores the positive in an effort to break stories that have shock value. What's going to make headlines quicker, Darryl Strawberry getting arrested for drug use or Warrick Dunn helping single mothers buy homes in his hometown of New Orleans?

Professional athletes shouldn't be automatically put on a pedestal to be role models, but more of them should take the challenge to act in that fashion because of their mass exposure. If more athletes stepped to the plate and took that responsibility, they truly could make a difference in the lives of the youngsters who grow up watching them. And athletes at every level â?? high school, college and pro â?? have the ability and the forum to influence others. For Overbrook High School graduate Les Lunsford, a member of the Philadelphia Kixx of the Major Indoor Soccer League, being a role model to kids is a huge part of the game. "As a professional athlete, you've got to be a role model because the kids look up to you so much," Lunsford said. "You really have to set an example and play that role for the kids. For the Kixx, the kids are our biggest fans and we get swarmed all the time but I really enjoy that stuff."

When Shawnee High School graduate Malik Allen made the Miami Heat roster after camp broke last fall, he said that there are little things that help an undrafted free-agent player like him stick in the league. "Character is a big part of making the team," said Allen, who is the first Shawnee graduate to play in the NBA. "It's important to do the right thing all the time and keep working hard. You have to represent yourself and the team well because there's always people ready to criticize you." When speaking about the responsibilities of athletes and sports celebrities to the community, St. Joseph's men's basketball coach Phil Martelli said, "I think it's part of the responsibility of the job. We're just ordinary people with extraordinary jobs but because of that, we have an opportunity to make a difference."

Philadelphia sports radio and television personality Howard Eskin, who was recently the guest of honor at the 9th Annual Celebrity Roast for the American Diabetes Association, says that athletes, as well as sports celebrities, truly have a unique role. "As athletes and celebrities, you have the ability to create a large amount of attention to an event or cause. I think it's part of your responsibility and there are athletes that really do get involved," Eskin said. "There are people who do a lot (of charitable work) but don't really publicize it but athletes have an ability to create attention so they should feel that getting involved helps others. There are lots of athletes who understand that."

Athletes and sports celebrities are not the only people who have the ability to be role models â?? they're just the most visible. Parents and surrounding family members are the first and biggest influences on children. But, people in any profession and any walk of life can be and should strive to be role models. The only difference between sports stars and your everyday Joe is that athletes have the high profile and the wide platform to make an influence on a large scale. Let's hope they can rise to the challenge.

Content provided by South Jersey Sports Club.

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Author: SJ Sports Club-Mike Shute

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