Like it or not, athletes are role models

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

Charles Barkley once said, he ain't no role model. Now, Charles Barkley is a funny guy, born and bred in Alabama (Leeds, that is), but he can make that statement until kingdom comes and I'll call his bluff each and every time.

While an athlete, (for those not in the know, Charles Barkley is considered one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time. Class over.), can tell you he isn't a role model, the fact of the matter is that he or she is. Barkley's basis for the above statement is that parents shouldn't call on him to help raise their kids. I agree. Parents - not super stud athletes, not teachers, not preachers, not a babysitter or older brother or sister - should be the ones to raise their kids.

However, Sir Charles misses one teeny tiny point: Being a nationally and internationally known public figure, (and being a public figure who's an athlete at that), gives you some obligation to not make a jackass of yourself amongst the commoners.

A child, be it pre or post-pubescent, is going to look up to an athlete. Especially a famous athlete. Baseball star. Football star. Basketball star. Even tennis players with bad attitudes, like John McEnroe in his heyday. Remember all the kids who wanted to be like Mike? Michael Jordan? His Air-Ness? I was one of them. I couldn't jump and clear a fire hydrant with a running start and the freshest pair of Air Jordan's in the world.

And yet these high-paid and filthily famous people continue set bad examples for all the youth in the world.

Let's think for a moment.

Barry Bonds wasn't much of role model to begin with. Hated the media. Standoffish with the public. He broke the record for most home runs in a season, which still didn't help his personality, and then the ‘S' word raised its ugly head. Steroids. And Bonds still denies he juiced his muscles. Meanwhile, kid friendly baseball homerun kings like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, are befuddled that anyone would question whence came their muscularity. Sosa walks out on an interview with Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, cursing, and McGwire hems and haws his way through a congressional hearing investigating steroid abuse in baseball. He never comes out and denies he took the drug. Which was probably the best thing, since Rafael Palmeiro pointedly jabbed his finger at the congressmen and did deny taking steroids. He even punctuated it. &#8220Period,” he said. Later, he got, busted.

The message the whole steroids-in-baseball mess sends is a bad one to the youth of America. Kids, baseball says, I juiced to get where I am today. To get money. To get fame. To get that BMW, and pimped-out pad, you have to cheat. You have to pump yourself up with artificial muscle and hope you don't die young of a heart attack or stroke before you reach your goals.

And kids, in surprising numbers, are listening.

So Sir Charles, don't tell me you're not a role model. Because, like it or not, you, and Kobe, and Shaq, and Terrell, and Keyshawn, and all the rest, are.

Kevin Pearcey is Group Managing Editor of Greenville Newspapers, LLC. He can be reached by phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or by email at: