Friday, April 11, 2014

Athletes Can Be Good Examples for Our Young, but Let's Not Forget They Are Human

Kids (and adults) can be greatly disappointed when a highly regarded player does not live up to the principles of good sports and character.  Life can be so disappointing when we see one sports hero after another fall prey to selfish behavior that hurts those around them. There are DUIs, spousal abuse, drug abuse, gun crimes, assaults and many other kinds of problems that we have seen in the lives of athletes whose play has made them role models for others.  Athletes come from the same stock that the rest of us come from. 

Of course, for every scandal, there are many more examples of athletes doing something decent and good.  But the decent and good  usually gets about 30 seconds on the 10 O'clock news, while an arrest is covered for months.  I don't blame the media for this.  With arrests, long trials and legal processes, the bad news can just go on and on. Today most everything in an athlete's life can go "viral" in minutes.

People love to stalk athletes regardless of what they are doing.  I was in New York just walking down the street several years ago and a famous baseball player walked out of a plain looking building and was immediately swarmed by people holding expensive sports memorabilia for him to sign.  He was coming out of his apartment, not leaving Yankee Stadium or entering a New York TV studio. Athletes live in glass houses of course.  In our celebrity-motored world, most anything bad a top athlete does is big news. But it makes me worry about the kids who worship these people. How do we handle it when a role model become a model inmate.

One suggestion that we make is that even if the athlete does not live up to our expectations, the principles that are espoused do not change. In other words, if an athlete represents his team and espouses fair play in speeches he gives to young athletes and then something happens in his life to suggest that he hasn't lived up to the ideal of fair play, that does not mean that kids should reject the message. Fair play is a principle of play for all athletes--that's a clear message in sports regardless of how it plays out with some athletes. We need to remind our kids that the principles live on regardless of how things play out in any one individual's life.

Institutions that are involved in sports do what they can to promote the good that athletes do.  I think this is very helpful.  Some of these awards:

  • The Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award recognizes an NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community. 
  • The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award is given annually to one player in recognition of his volunteer and charity award as well as excellence on the field.  
  • Tony Dungy promotes an "Always There Award" for unsung heroes of high school football in the SEC football states.
  • The Salute to Service Award is presented by USAA in conjunction with the NFL to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to support U.S. service members.
  •  The Walter Camp Football Foundation honors excellent in sports coupled with service to mankind with seven awards to individuals and one to a team. 
  • The Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award honors high school football coaches who demonstrate commitment to player health and safety and to integrity, achievement and leadership exemplified by Shula.
  • Sporting Chance Press author, Patrick McCaskey, serves as Chairman of Sports Faith International, an initiative that recognizes exceptional athletes who lead exemplary lives at the high school, college, and professional level.  

All these awards and many more help to bring attention to positive contributions by athletes.  Athletes are not perfect, some disappoint, some behave exemplary, and all are human. As parents, teachers, coaches, etc., we need to focus on the principles and when we point to a winning athlete make sure our kids understand that he or she is a human being. 

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey. Order your copies here  for immediate shipment.