Athletes not always good role models

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 14, 2009

Something has got to give.

We live in a world where juiced up, unbelievably bulky athletes have stick thin, unimaginably tiny girlfriends and wives, and our children look up to them.

Our athletes can bully or fight their way through anything these days — games, traffic tickets, nightclubs and serious legal charges.

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And all the while our youth are watching, wishing no longer that they can grow up to be a fireman or an astronaut or a doctor.

No, they want to be the next Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez or Kobe Bryant or Terrell Owens.

But think about what these people have been in the news for recently. Is it home runs and touchdowns and game-winning 3s, or is it steroids, marital affairs, off-the-field fighting or legal trouble?

There was a time when athletes were the All-American role model, when clean-cut guys graduated from college and played for years with a team.

Now it’s all about making money, jumping ship from school as early as possible and getting your name in the headlines as much as you can.

Our kids cannot be taught any longer to think that professional athletes are perfect, immoveable. They need to be told that, like everyone else, athletes have their flaws and make mistakes just like everyone else.

Otherwise, the thug mentality will continue in football and basketball, and the cheating will continue in baseball.

It seems new players are busted every week by Major League Baseball for taking steroids or other banned substances, and many of our recent baseball heroes, guys who were thought to be guaranteed entries to Cooperstown, are now out of the question at worst and asterisk-ridden at best.

And when football players get arrested for drugs or alcohol or for some other seemingly pointless crime, and are then handed slaps on the wrist, bold headlines in the newspapers and bigger salaries the next year, our kids think it’s normal to get in trouble.

Hey, as long as you can play, you’re taken care of, right?

The answer should be “wrong.” If you get busted for doing something that would put Average Joe in jail, you should be in the same place. Fancy lawyers and public relations personnel don’t exist for 99 percent of the population, but that’s a hard concept for impressionable young minds to grasp.

There are so many statistics and records that are now questionable thanks to the steroid era, and so many good teams that have been torn apart by me-first attitudes, that it has gotten hard to believe what any athlete says anymore.

But there’s a way to change that for the future. Teaching children to respect authority and rules, to play their games with honesty and integrity and to treat their teammates and opponents with respect now will go a long way to ensuring they actually do that in the future.

There are some bright young athletes in the Miss-Lou, and it would be great to see them represent the area well in the future.

Wouldn’t it be nice to actually be proud to say you knew them way back when?

Krysten Oliphant is a sports reporter for The Democrat. She can be reached at