Professional athletes have become more than just “athletes”, especially the superstars. They’re looked at as “gods” for many because of their talent, wealth, and stature in society. Lebron James, Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady are just a few examples of the athletes that are common knowledge for any sports buff. Many (especially adolescent’s) see them as idols, wanting desperately to look and act like them both on and off the court/field.
Have we societally put too much pressure on athletes to be role models; or does it come with the territory? Is it fair to expect complete strangers (minus the national fame and attention) to live up to “our” moral expectations just because they live in the public eye? These are questions that I think need to be asked, although the answer might differ depending on who’s answering.
For perspective, I grew up idolizing Jeter; I loved what he represented both on and off the field. He was the epitome of class and sportsmanship throughout his career and he made it extremely difficult not to like him (even for Red Sox fans). You could say that my ideology towards athletes has been skewed because I like/dislike an athlete more for their character than their performance on the field. I don’t have a problem with someone making mistakes, I root against athletes who have severe character flaws (Floyd Mayweather, Alex Rodriguez, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson etc.).
My best friend on the other hand, is more concerned about an athlete’s performance than his lifestyle choices (check out his blog dontquityourdayjob.sportsblog.com). He grew up idolizing Michael Jordan, who is one the greatest competitors (and sports figures) of all time, but not exactly one of the best men to ever walk this earth. Now, in no way am I saying that my friend isn’t a good person because he idolized Jordan; I’m saying that by idolizing Jordan his perspective towards athletes is different than mine.
While I might judge/root for an athlete based on his/her character, that doesn’t mean I’m right or am trying to start a trend. Performance is every bit as important to me (I don’t cheer on scrubs) as someone’s character; however an athlete [that I once rooted against] can sway my opinion of them if they show class/sportsmanship on and off the field (hello Tom Brady). I realize that my ideology might seem a little strange and not the “norm”, but that’s what makes sports so great; everyone has their own reasoning for rooting the way they do.
In closing, athletes shouldn’t be held to an unrealistic standard and expected to act perfect all day, every day. Yes, they’re living in the public eye and many will never have to worry where their next meal’s coming from, but that doesn’t mean they should be vilified for making mistakes. I believe that athletes should be mindful of the role they play in the lives of fans however they shouldn’t be expected to be someone’s idol. That job is the responsibility of the parent(s) to live up to, not someone who can be found daily in a 30 second SportsCenter highlight.