Athletes’ role isn’t always model

We wear their jerseys and talk about them like we’ve been buddies since childhood. We chant their names in happiness and curse their existence in scorn.

We think we know our favorite athletes but, truthfully, we don’t know them at all.

As much as we want to believe that “athletes are normal people,” they just aren’t. Normal people aren’t paid millions of dollars, nor do they do their jobs in front of thousands of fans, in-person, or millions of fans watching on television.

Athletes should be held to a higher standard in their daily lives, but they really don’t have to be.

That’s why I have a problem with athletes being looked at as role models.

Sure, on the field, court, or ice, these guys can be looked up to in grand fashion. Young athletes should see how their favorite players perform and duplicate their mechanics and work ethic. Little kids should be able to wear the same shoes as their favorite basketball player (even if they cost upward of $200) and they should use the same brand of glove as their favorite baseball player (even if it won’t improve their own fielding ability.)

Then, youngsters can try to behave in the same way as their favorite athletes.

To an extent.

Many players have their own charitable foundations and know how to put on a smile while signing autographs. But that’s about the length of how we view our favorite players. The line stops there.

We don’t see how they behave on road trips. We don’t hear how they speak to their teammates. We don’t observe their home life.

To say we know a player by their performance on the field doesn’t mean we know them as a whole person, by any means.

That’s why calling an athlete a “role model” should stay within the boundaries of their respective sport. Their role is to win games and perform at the highest level possible. By signing up to be a professional athlete, thousands of normal guys are no longer normal.

Yes, there are a whole host of wholesome, humble guys who make a living off of hitting, throwing or catching a ball. Names like Tim Tebow, Derek Jeter and David Beckham always come up as “good guys” in sports. We know that they are in peak physical condition and we know that they enjoy helping those in need, but how do they act in their daily lives when the cameras are turned off?

One lesser known name that I always thought highly of was Justin Blackmon.

Until he tarnished his good name.

I first came across this football player when watching a “College Gameday” special on the former Oklahoma State wide receiver. Blackmon was one of the best statistical players in the college ranks, back in 2011. He was featured on this national program not for his athletic ability, but for his ability to forge a friendship with a young cancer patient named Olivia Hamilton.

Blackmon would visit Olivia and her family in the hospital and invite them to Oklahoma State practices and games. He truly made her feel like a member of the team. Later in that 2011 season, I saw random Oklahoma State games on television and the camera would find Olivia in the crowd. Each time Blackmon scored a touchdown, he, too, would find Olivia in the crowd and celebrate with her from the field.

It was certainly one of those special moments that only sports can provide.

Shortly after Blackmon was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012, his professional career and professional image went south. He was arrested for DUI and committed multiple infractions against the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Normal people do make mistakes, athletes are certainly no different, but can someone be a role model when they fail to listen and obey rules?

It’s easy to take an athlete’s side in a questionable situation. Pirate fans are currently in that struggle right now with the allegations against third baseman Jung Ho Kang. When Kang, who had the winning hit against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, and the team come back to PNC Park tonight, the reception might be a little peculiar.

We can cheer his performance on the field, but rooting for someone under a sexual assault investigation doesn’t really sit well.

Kang isn’t the first athlete to, allegedly, invite a female into his hotel room.

He won’t be the last, either.

His whole situation should open fans’ eyes to see that even though a professional athlete has the same urges as us normal people, they don’t always make the right, million-dollar decision.

We don’t really know if athletes are “good guys” or not. That’s why we can say, “Such and such professional athlete is my favorite player.”

What you don’t hear is, “Such and such professional athlete is my favorite person.”

The real role models should be people in our everyday lives who go above and beyond their own call of duty.

For me, as a 27-year old still trying to find his way in the adult world, I look to my elders for guidance, advice and tips on how to live life to the fullest. I don’t necessarily need people to tell me how to live, but I enjoy seeing how they get by each day.

You can observe a lot just by watching. Thanks for that one, Yogi Berra.

These days, I see my father and grandfather as role models. I look at co-workers and neighbors as people I want to model my life after.

Sidney Crosby can show me how to shoot a hockey puck. Drew Brees can show me how to throw a touchdown pass. LeBron James can show me how to dunk a basketball (even if I can’t jump that high).

None of them can show me how to act as an all-around, good person.

(Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com)


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