The Idiocy Of Glorifying Athletes As Leading Role Models
It all began with a thick yellow book. ‘The Greatest: Muhammed Ali: My Own Story’ and it was the first ‘real’ book I remember reading. The book led me to videos of him dancing around the ring, posters of his most famous quotes, and conversations with older generations about exactly how special he really was. To me, he appeared the complete professional, a flawless combination of speed and strength. With a boyish susceptibility and plenty of evidence in front of me, each time I listened to Ali’s self-proclamation, “I am the greatest” I believed it more.
The big question is why? Why did I take what this man was saying as granted? Why does anyone accept direction from sportstars? After the recent cases of Tiger Woods’ affairs, Lance Armstrong’s doping, and Oscar Pistorius’ ‘culpable homicide’ charge, it seems absurd to turn athletes in to heroes.
These sporting men and women have celebrity status and their entire lives embody abnormality. It starts as youths when they’re conditioned into believing they’re better than everyone else. Today’s advanced scouting networks result in these natural talents being wooed by third party representatives after playground performances. Their minds are overloaded with promises of future riches, sponsorships, superstar lifestyles, and everything else that childhood dreams are made of. The most gifted youngsters are hastily sent away to multi-million pound academies where their skills are refined by managers and coaches who delight in cherishing their prize assets. In swoop the agents with more assurances of wealth, rewards, and special favours, and if they’re lucky enough to make it on the big stage then their face is likely to be broadcast all over the globe with a surreal quality based on the persona of a hero.
Throughout this process, these select few are taught the lesson that they (being the elite) are held to a different standard. Economic principles and academic levels are of little concern as club and company representatives make sure these requirements are taken care of. This only broadens the gap between these child athletes and the social conventions that develop integrity and morals for the majority of people in everyday society. Unfortunately the adverse consequences of this mental pampering prove only too obvious. Individuals conditioned into feeling they’re outwith the laws of society are inherently more likely to pursue immoral impulses. The previously mentioned sportsmen illustrate how revelling in self-affection can be addictive. I feel that a large share of young men, when overwhelmed with riches and flattery would behave in the same way that Woods has. Its quite predictable that Woods fell to his desires, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
I’m not trying make excuses for Woods’ infidelity, but merely trying to demonstrate the idiocy of assuming the top sportstars will act like heroes. A dictionary definition of hero is, “A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.” Exactly what part of hitting a ball across 18 holes equates to feats of courage? Woods isn’t a hero, and nor are other household names such as George Best, Andre Agassi, and Shane Warne. They are the fruits of pop culture folklore which has adapted to cultivate false status.
This modern generation of superstars, as well as all celebrities it seems, are appraised as our cultural upper class. We the public try and attach ourselves to them and hope for a connection (or even a retweet.) Don’t you think it’s ridiculous that millions of people felt personally betrayed by Woods’ affairs? The public masses that congregate to cry at the gates of dead celebrities is just as peculiar a phenomenon (take Elvis Presley or Bob Marley for example.) Despite the fact that we’ve never met these famous names, for some unknown reason we revere them to such an extent that we feel a genuine personal connection exists.
So where’s the problem? Well that arises when society chooses to value media personalities ahead of genuine heroes. Brian O’Driscoll said, “If you can be a good role model for people, well, great. Kids always need a role model but they should start by looking to their parents and their siblings.” O’Driscoll acknowledges that fame alone is not sufficient to turn celebrities into moral educators.
Personally I have no issue with adoring athletes for the on-field performances they produce, but perhaps the romance should end when the match is over. The youth of today are inundated with genuine heroes – the armed forces, the emergency services, schoolteachers, and most importantly, their family. If society feels personally mislead by Woods’ infidelities then I suggest a second thought is needed about the individuals we look to for encouragement and leadership.
Did Woods let his family down? Yes. The public? No; he doesn’t owe us anything. The important concern is not whether Woods will be able to become a role model once more, but how our culture has come to link celebrity status with superiority and that we valued Woods as a role model in the first place.