Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Real Role Models in The Advocate

Keeping It Real
Jan. 16, 2010
Pro athletes have influence on youngsters

* Advocate Opinion page staff
* Published: Jan 16, 2010 - Page: 9B

Former NBA and former Auburn star Charles Barkley was quoted several years ago as saying, “I am not a role model.” He has been called many things over the years, but role model is not one of them.

Barkley has admitted having trouble with alcohol, gambling and his weight, while also being outspoken and critical about politics, sports and other topics that interest him.

I admire Barkley for his candor and his ability to laugh at himself. But being a role model to children — as many professional athletes, coaches, teachers, law enforcement authorities, celebrities (actors and artists) and politicians are — is no laughing matter.

However, holding up professional athletes as role models is particularly problematic as revelations surface about steroid use among former MLB players (Mark McGwire), former NFL players (Dana Stubblefield) and former track athletes (Marion Jones).

The public’s patience, confidence and willingness to forgive and forget transgressions and give athletes another chance also are eroded amid reports of infidelity among golfers (Tiger Woods); NBA (Gilbert Arenas) and NFL players (Plaxico Burress) packing weapons “for protection” and players in both leagues continuing to violate the leagues’ substance abuse and personal conduct policies.

Children see the games and commercials on TV and the Internet and/or listen to them on the radio. They urge their parents to buy the $100-plus jerseys, uniforms, shoes and equipment. They spend countless hours on the playgrounds, fields and courts and in the weight room trying to get “faster, higher and stronger” so they can “be like Mike” (Michael Jordan) and so many others.

Professional athletes have influence. I would not call it power. That means many young people will do almost anything to mimic athletes and have the “bling, bling” (jewelry), the women and the men, the parties, the entourage, the clothing, the cars, the houses, the notoriety and perceived glory that athletes have.

But at what price?

That’s not to say all professional athletes are bad people. Many, if not most, athletes are good people.

Take Baton Rouge’s own Seimone Augustus, a former Capitol High School and former LSU star, who plays in the WNBA. Take Warrick Dunn, a former Catholic High and former Florida State star, who retired from the NFL after playing for the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As of May 6, Dunn had helped 85 single parents buy homes through Homes for the Holidays, a program his foundation began in 1997 in Tampa, Fla. His mother, police Cpl. Betty Smothers, was murdered in January 1993 while working an off-duty security job in Baton Rouge. She was supporting six children.

In addition to those efforts, Dunn recognizes outstanding high school football players in the Baton Rouge area with the annual Warrick Dunn award.

He is a true role model.

A friend, Louis Harrison Jr., an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin who works with student-athletes, recently e-mailed me about reviewing a book, “Real Role Models,” that he co-authored. Can’t wait.

Johnny Brooks is an assistant metro editor for The Advocate. His e-mail address is