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Remembering Charles Barkley's role model theory

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Sometimes we can remember what happened 20 years ago with much more clarity than we can recall what happened 20 seconds ago.

I had a senior moment at home on Tuesday and I’m only 41. I put in a new filter and fresh coffee grounds into the pot. I come back 10 minutes later to get a cup, only to find out I didn't pour fresh water into the pot to brew the coffee.

NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley made headlines in 1993 when recording a commercial in which he said, “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

Good thing for Barkley, he didn’t play in the social media/cellphone camera era. Can you imagine Barkley on Twitter back in the day? Good Lord.

The issue of professional athletes being role models has always been a hot-button issue for a lot of people. My take has always been that, like it or not, professional athletes are role models. Whether they are good or bad at being role models is another matter.

Let’s not fool ourselves, kids are impressionable and they emulate the behavior of their heroes. Why are there more high school kids getting tattoos? That answer, at least partially, lies in many professional athletes having them. I never thought I’d live to see the day that I’d find a JV basketball player with one.

That said, the important distinction to make is they are “secondary” role models. I could get on a diatribe saying that raising kids starts at home but that’s not what this column is about. That said, parents are where the buck starts and stops.

Much of the focus on professional athlete role modeling often tends to focus on negative behavior such as “don’t run afoul with the law like Michael Vick” or watch what you do when out in public. The latter takes on even more importance in this day and age with social media.

It’s just as important, however, to point out to youngsters the positive aspect of professional athlete role modeling, such as “look at the teamwork and humility that the San Antonio Spurs showed in winning the NBA championship” or “look at the training regimen of Tony Gonzalez that allowed him to play at a high level for 17 years.”

Those are two examples of many where sports stars make great role models for children, teens and adults, they show the benefits of a healthy lifestyle while they eat, train and play healthy. They encourage children to be strong and fit, and not all sports stars take drugs; it is only a couple of people who ruin the reputation of the other sports stars. The problem is, the ones who ruin it tend to stand out more.

Of course, there are bad behaviors to learn from as well.

Much of the venom toward professional athletes are the exorbitant salaries they make. However, I have always said that being a millionaire does not make you any less human.

You hear the groveling all the time, “Why the heck are they making way more money than teachers, policemen, firemen, et cetera!” True enough but notice how those doing the groveling wouldn’t turn that money down. It doesn’t bother me at all that pro athletes make way more money than most people in society.

Much has been made of how over half of the retired professional athletes face financial hardship after their careers. The role modeling aspect of parents teaching their kids comes in and subsequently say, “Son, just because you win $10 million in the lottery does not mean you buy a $10 million home.”

Whether they like it or not, professional athletes have the power to influence in negative ways, whether it is by firing a gun, taking drugs, drunken driving, or whatever stupid behavior may be the flavor of the day, but the behavior can be positive, too.

Athletes need to be incredibly responsible about what they do and say, particularly today thanks to the juggernaut of social media making them so accessible.


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