I’m a sports junkie. I’ve been known to ingest football at unhealthy levels, to the point where the number of hours watched in a single sitting exceed the number of hours of daylight in an early Fall day. I’ve also been guilty of avoiding as much human contact as possible, driving home in silence for fear of someone trying to talk about a playoff baseball game that I have recorded. I love every sport…almost. Sorry, falconry. I don’t understand you.
However, I have slowly realized, sometimes painfully so, that my “heroes” aren’t the superhuman, larger-than-life, do-no-wrong good guys that I’ve built them up to be. I’ve heard far too many stories about far too many bad things happening because far too many athletes simply engage in stupidity. Some illegal, some immoral, some despicable. I haven’t figured out if living in such a highly transparent, highly technological world is the reason it seems like more athletes wind up issuing forced, robotic apologies (I’m looking at you, Tiger) or athletes nowadays are just really bad at being dumb.
So I’m usually not shocked anymore when I hear of so-and-so getting arrested on drug charges or ol’ what’s-his-name convicted of identity fraud. Even some of the more heinous crimes don’t shock me the way they used to. And I don’t get mad at these men anymore as if they knew they were going to let me down with their actions and then went and did it anyway.
But I’ll have a son soon. And with the large volume of sports we will hopefully consume together, I know he’ll start off like the rest of us did, putting these athletes so high atop a pedestal that we couldn’t snatch them off that thing if we wanted to. But little by little that pedestal bottom will slowly start to sink into the soft mud of normalcy under the weight of poor decision after poor decision until the one day when my son will be able to stand relatively eye to eye with his former heroes and think “Well, these guys aren’t great role models at all.”
It’s sad to think about, really, and I know there certainly are a few, really upstanding men I would be happy for my son to look up to. But in order for him to find a decent candidate, he will have to sift through a sea of arrest reports, embarrassing headlines and victim testimonies. And even if he does come across a sports figure widely held in high regard, it’s so hard to tell what happens behind closed doors. Right, Joe Paterno? That might be the more tragic thing: The poor folks that haven’t figured out any of this and hold onto the false heroism of clearly and devastatingly flawed men because “he won a bunch of football games” or “he’s an American institution!”
It is my hope not to prevent my son from making an athlete his role model but making sure he is aware of the potential letdown of putting athletes, or anyone for that matter, on too high a pedestal. And, certainly, I’ll warn him of the dangers and ignorance of blind loyalty. But ultimately, teaching my son lessons about role models is secondary to ensuring I do and say things so that one day, my son’s role model will be his father.