You can say what you want about Charles Barkley, but the one thing he certainly got right is that athletes are not role models.
Barkley has always been a great quote and an even better pot stirrer. Back in 1993, while doing a commercial for Nike athletic shoes, Barkley looked into the camera and said, “I am not a role model.” He told the public athletes shouldn’t be looked up to, but that the job of being role models fell on the parents at home. Although it sparked a lot of controversy at the time it turns out that Sir Chuck hit the nail right on the head. You shouldn’t look up to an athlete and expect them to be a role model.
We all have our childhood sports heroes. Mine was Mickey Mantle. Was Mantle a role model? The answer is no. Mantle was a hard drinking, womanizing, absentee husband and father who happened to be a great baseball player. Back in Mantle’s playing days the press chose to basically turn a blind eye to his antics and the antics of other players before and around him. To a kid like me the Mick was the sun and the moon, and that’s because I didn’t know anything about what went on with him once a ballgame was over. It wasn’t until Mickey’s liver went bad and he later contracted cancer that he looked in the mirror and got himself turned around. He told kids, young and old, “Don’t be like me.” It was a simple and sincere message. He didn’t want anyone to emulate him.
The list in baseball is a long one of great athletes, who in their private lives, and sometimes their public ones, are miscreants. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Raphael Palmeiro, and Miguel Tejada are just a few of the well known names who are poor role models. And now, after confessing his use of performance enhancing drugs they are joined by Alex Rodriguez.
Not that A-Rod’s public persona was squeaky clean to begin with. Remember the mysterious blond bombshell he was seen with on the cover of the NY Post? The cover of the paper said “Stray-Rod?” Witnesses had them hanging out together in Seattle, Toronto and Dallas, allegedly going into strip clubs. How romantic. How about just last year when he was romantically linked to Madonna, though both slugger and singer denied any intimate relationship. Interestingly enough, both Rodriguez and Madonna divorced their spouses shortly afterwards. A-Rod is a magnet to controversy.
It just isn’t in baseball where poor role models exist. How many times have you seen the names of NBA and NFL players pop up in the sports section or police blotter after getting into some unlawful situation and they end up with their latest pictures being booking photos?
It doesn’t stop there. You see lousy role models in the Olympics, track and field, cycling, and tennis. You name the sport and you’re sure to find men and women you looked up to who have seriously disappointed you in how you used to view them.
Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros was quoted in the Houston Chronicle, regarding A-Rod’s public admission of cheating. Berkman said, “The problem with this whole sordid mess (is) … nobody’s going to be believed anymore.” Berkman, as far as we know, isn’t a steroid abuser and he is absolutely right. It will be extremely difficult for anyone to believe anybody in sports has an absolute clean past.
That’s the sad part of it all. The real victims are all the athletes who are clean, who are good citizens, who are good husbands and wives and who lead upstanding lives. Their sport has once again been spoiled by another athlete who decided to play by his own rules.
One thing I will commend Alex Rodriguez on. Even though after going back over his interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons on Monday where I think he did a little too much justification about why he cheated with steroids, I will commend him on coming straight out and saying he did it. He didn’t lie about it although he did try and paint himself as an unwitting, naïve and young player who went with the flow. At least he put the onus on himself and didn’t blame anyone else for getting caught. He told the truth.
Something Miguel Tejada will learn about in federal court today.