Michael Vick and Barry Bonds. If you've been paying any attention to the sports scene this summer, you're very familiar with those names. Vick, the Pro Bowl quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, and Bonds, the Hall-of-Fame-worthy leftfielder for the San Francisco Giants, have completely different reasons for being in the headlines, but the end result for both could be similar.
Vick is accused of being involved in a dogfighting scheme. One of his associates has already pleaded guilty and indicated he will provide evidence that could prove detrimental to Vick, both legally and professionally since the NFL's new commissioner Roger Goodell is determined to rid the NFL of criminal activity after years of legal woes. Goodell has already banned Vick from training camp for the indictment alone (nevermind that if Vick is found not-guilty he could sue the league).
Bonds is accused of using steroids to expedite (if not make possible altogether) his rise to baseball's greatest home run hitter ever. Ahead of fellow African-American sports great Hank Aaron who received death threats throughout 1973 and '74 while he was approaching Babe Ruth's record of 713 home runs. It's also important to note that Bonds, too, has a friend who has already been positively linked to his accusation; thankfully for Bonds, his friend has remained tight-lipped in prison (and most believe will remain so for a friendly payoff upon his release).
Regardless of what the reasons for Vick's alleged dogfighting "hobby" and Bonds' alleged steroid use (and perjury under a federal grand jury), it's unfortunate that these men are now more known for their legal troubles than their contributions to their respective teams' success.
I don't have the information necessary to predict the outcomes of each sports figure's legal circumstances, but I can say with all certainty that these stars have already begun the downward spiral from the galaxy's mountaintop they were once lifted into for nothing more than athletic prowess.
Too often, we elevate sports figures and other celebrities to role model status without justification outside of their talent on the hardwood or Astroturf. It's troubling that we can't give the same prestige to doctors, engineers, police officers, and other professionals who use their talents and abilities to improve their lives and the lives of others.
That said, I'm not surprised when a star athlete is negatively influenced by hanger-on friends that don't have his best interest in mind? And I don't act surprised when a sports star finds a way to work around the system to improve his chances for success on the field?
Instead, I think Vick and Bonds are prime examples of why it's so important to recognize the real role models in the African-American community. The people that earn the "role model" designation because of their hard work and commitment to a profession without expecting signing bonuses, MVP awards, and endorsement deals.
There are plenty of examples of real role models in professional sports, but part of me thinks the jury has already found Vick and Bonds guilty of false impersonation.