Media & Marketing and Sports Business

SPORTS: If heroes fail as role models, put yourself in the game

July 11, 2005

- Luke 12:48

In light of the above Scripture, many would agree that among the most blessed creatures on this Earth are professional athletes. As has been noted often, they receive handsome compensation to play games, and it doesn't really get much better than that, does it?

Along with the fortune, however, comes celebrity, and from celebrity comes attention. That means there are no non-public public moments. The spotlight illuminates both the good and the bad.

These thoughts come to mind in the wake of the latest athlete-goes-wild episode, this one involving Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers. In case you missed it, Rogers assaulted two television cameramen who were doing nothing more than shooting Rogers as he walked past the dugout.

Major League Baseball handed Rogers a 20-game suspension, which sounds like a big deal until you consider that, as a starting pitcher, Rogers only plays once every five days. So he actually will miss only four games. He also was fined $50,000. Two words: pocket change.

Rogers, even though he was clearly in the wrong, is nonetheless having his suspension appealed by the players' association, which presents another dilemma. While his appeal is being processed-leaving Major League Baseball powerless to intervene-Rogers is eligible to appear in the July 12 All-Star Game in Detroit. His fellow players voted him onto the team. Presumably, the vote was taken before Rogers' assault, although that might not have influenced his peers, especially since he went after a couple of members of the media, whom many athletes regard as the pond scum they must wade through almost every day.

In any case, as of this writing, Rogers had not decided whether to play in the All-Star Game.

An All-Star appearance is an honor, but not for the dishonored.

From this, however, has sprung a larger issue, and it was captured in a column published in The Indianapolis Star and written by Indianapolis native and now Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock.

Whitlock opined that incidents like those involving Rogers and the Pacers' Ron Artest are symptoms of the larger "disconnect" between athletes and fans.

Athletes, Whitlock says, are becoming more uncomfortable with the microscope they have been placed under, and fans "won't let go of the silly idea that athletes owe their fans something more than a solid performance on the field."

In other words, it's our fault when athletes cross the line of civility. Or, as long as the athlete delivers on the field, who are we to care if he or she is a jerk-or worse-off the field?

What malarkey. No microscope justifies an unprovoked attack on two cameramen doing their job. And this wasn't a case of relentless paparazzi pursuing celebrity prey down a highway.

Neither does any provocation-including, yes, a beer cup to the chin-excuse Ron Artest's actions.

Again, trying to somehow explain away athletes who cross the line, Whitlock drags out the lame Charles Barkley theory that athletes should not be regarded as role models.

More malarkey.

Athletes are role models. It goes with the turf. And the higher they fly in the sports stratosphere, the more responsibility they have. Peyton Manning understands that. Reggie Miller understands that. And, I'm happy to say, I believe more star athletes than not understand that.

Does that mean athletes cannot have flaws, or misbehave? Of course not. We all screw up. The difference is, because of the fame that goes with the fortune, their screw-ups may end up in 72-point type or become the lead story on the evening news.

Performing in the public eye, often in venues funded by public money, demands greater accountability. Wearing a uniform that represents a school, community, city, state or their country means athletes are representing far more than just themselves.

Our task, as parents and mentors, is to make sure we keep this role-modeling in perspective. Athletes, although blessed with special gifts, are human, and sometimes their behavior is not what we want our children to emulate.

We need to serve as role models ourselves, and point out others-as simple as good neighbors-who serve as everyday examples of genuine goodness.



Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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