By Mark Carpenter –
Who are your role models? Who are the people that you look up to and use as an example? Who do your children model themselves after? Who are their role models?
For better or worse in today’s media-driven society (or perhaps social media driven), the answers to those questions are far different than they were four or five decades ago. Celebrities and athletes have taken control of the “role model” business. With that comes the question, should they be held to some kind of higher standing because of their positions?
The adoration of professional athletes is nothing new-how about “The Babe” in the Roaring Twenties? I grew up living and dying with the Big Red Machine, Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys, Walt Frazier and the New York Knicks, Phil Esposito and the Boston Bruins, and later it was WGN all the time to watch Michael Jordan and the Bulls. In that time period, we didn’t know much about what our favorite athletes did off the field because most of them actually behaved themselves and of course we didn’t have social media chronicling their every breath.
I didn’t know what the Big Red Machine members did when they left the ball park and I didn’t much care. I just knew that “my team” was the best in baseball and all I really knew about them was what I read in the newspapers that I devoured every day along with my much anticipated delivery of The Sporting News. No TMZ action, just playing ball.
Today, though, things have changed. You need to look no further than the latest adventures of “Pac-Man” to see what I mean. The piranhas in the media who serve our scandal-obsessed and quick to judge society, swarm around and within minutes, the slip-up in any so-called celebrity’s life appears on our phone or television screens. Is that right? Is that fair? Should those who live with the celebrity label be under such scrutiny or held to that higher standard? Maybe Peter Parker said it best, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Charles Barkley didn’t think so, saying in an interview that he certainly wasn’t a role model. The latest issue of Sports Illustrated has an illuminating piece on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how his life has changed since the allegations against him a few years ago, and how even with that, his #7 jersey can still be seen everywhere in Steeler land. It makes you realize that we are far more forgiving to a celebrity misstep, than we might be of our neighbor, friend, or even family member. In the article, Steelers’ owner Art Rooney says,”Sometimes guys lose their way. A lot of things out there can get in a professional athlete’s way. As we all know.” Is that an excuse? Living their lives above board and exemplifying model behavior seems like a small price to pay for the extreme riches that a professional athlete receives.
Is Rooney’s thought how we pass it off? Things get in the way? There are none of us who haven’t had “things” get in our way that put our lives in a U-turn, but you and I aren’t highly paid celebrities whose exploits are broadcast world-wide within minutes. Does that mean that we should hold them to that higher standard and expect them to walk the path of straight and narrow?
Most of us do not have a lot of sympathy for those who make more money in a single paycheck than we will in 10 lifetimes. To be honest, the whole “celebrity does something stupid” has become so commonplace that we just shrug it off as another rich guy or girl doing the same old thing. Does that mean we are holding them to a higher standard? Maybe not, since the stadiums and arena are still jam-packed with fans who forgive or don’t care.
I don’t know that we have a higher standard because we have just become so used to it. Role models fail today and we don’t care- just keep hitting home runs, scoring touchdowns, hitting three-pointers, making hit movies, or singing hit songs- and we will have selective memory. Are you going to quit supporting the Bengals because Pac-Man can’t control his temper? Not me. Besides, how much is reported on all of the good things that the rich and famous do? How many of you knew that Andy Dalton had gone to Children’s Hospital and paid the medical bills of 70 children?
As I said earlier, my “hero” growing up was Roger Staubach, and he is still the one professional athlete that I would give anything to meet. But still, he was not my role model, he was my favorite football player, though he certainly qualified as the perfect role model. My role model lived in the same house with me, worked long hours, kept food on our table, coached my Knothole team, and, well you get the picture, though I probably didn’t at the time. So, be the role model for your kids, or find a role model somewhere if you so desire, maybe in church on Sunday morning. Safe to say, they don’t get much better than that.