"I am not a role model." — Charles Barkley in 1993.
Who can young athletes look up to in a sports world that seems to blend in with the police blotter and one that is filled with athletes and coaches whose moral compasses point due south? Long before he walked into the Basketball Hall of Fame or put on a microphone for TNT, Charles Barkley said he didn't want any part of being a role model for our nation's youth.
It sure doesn't seem like anyone in professional or college sports wants to be someone that people look up to or set a standard that children want to achieve or follow. Tiger Woods, who many young athletes admired and respected for his talent and tenacity, didn't turn out to be the person we thought he was. Michael Vick? He wasn't any better and neither was Brett Farve. Joe Paterno and Rick Pitino didn't turn out to be the people they were made out to be, either.
Whether Barkley or any other athlete or coach likes it or not, they are indeed role models. They are chosen by children and teenagers who want to emulate their games and styles. Don't believe me? Just look at the amateur athletes who wear their favorite players numbers, dress in a uniform as their heroes do, and emulate their style off it.
Kids see their favorite players on ESPN and want to do everything they can do to be just like them. Tattoos? It sure seems like a lot of amatuer athletes got them because their favorite pro did. Twitter? Every professional athlete seems to have an account and the younger unpaid ones sign up just to follow them and read what they are thinking.
During an Easter Mass, of the New York Jet took a shot at professional athletes who insist they are not role models, "Yes you are. You're just not a good one," Tebow said. Tebow knows that whether he likes it or not, young athletes look up to him and are watching his every move. He has chosen to embrace his role, yet is criticized by other professional athletes because he walks the straight and narrow by not drinking, smoking, juicing, or chasing woman around.
Our sports world needs more athletes like Tebow, not less. He is everything good about athletics. He is humble, hard-working, and is not shaken by criticism, nor is he influenced by what others think. I'd rather have Tebow preaching to young athletes than a coach like Bobby Petrino of Arkansas who tells his players to be honest, respectful, and to abide by the rules, then turns around and cheats on his wife, lies to his employers, and is not forthcoming with the police officials who were investigating a crash that nearly claimed his life.
The problem just doesn't lie with the leaders of college programs who are supposed to help in the growth and development of young men. It has filtered down through many of our high schools and youth leagues.
Last fall, three football coaches in a turned in their resignations after it was learned they encouraged their players to burn the third-place trophies they had received. Winning became all too important and took a back seat to class, dignity, and respect.
When I was growing up, I idolized Steve Garvey, who was the 1974 MVP of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I did everything just like him. I wore his number, patterned my batting stance after him, and even played first base just like my "role model." I was shattered when I found out that he wasn't the person I thought he was. Garvey fathered children with several different woman.
That's when I turned to the only role models that I, and most children should ever have: parents. Parents are the ones every child or young peson playing sports should look up to, because the professional athletes that kids worship, usually don't turn out to be the people they thought they were. Sad, but in this day and age, it's often true.