As a child, I never comprehended the difference between a boy and a man. I assumed that any male figure who looked like a grown-up was a man. Aside from my father, who often imparted his wisdom on life and lived them out, I gave athletes my utmost respect and nominated them as my role models.
It’s a given to look up to athletes over other people. They demonstrate super-human strength that no average human-being possess. They prove that hard work is the only means to a perfect result. Their battle against adversity is highly publicized on national television, whether they’re on the court or the field. Former basketball player Bill Bradley states, “Sports is a metaphor for overcoming obstacles and achieving against great odds. Athletes, in times of difficulty, can be important role models.”
Growing up, nearly every role model I listed was an athlete. In the third grade, I did a class presentation on Jackie Robinson and his contributions to the civil rights movement. The following year I did a biography project on Grant Hill, and in the fifth grade, I wrote a book report on Lou Gehrig. If there was anyone I looked up to, it would always be an athlete.
It’s an inevitable entitlement. When an athlete signs a contract to play on a professional team, there are certain expectations that are not written on the fine print. More than just producing numbers and out-of-the-world statistics that can turn a mediocre team in a championship caliber force; an athlete is expected to live out their lives as a role model to the public. They have the power to influence a younger generation to do the things they should do and advocate against things they shouldn’t do. As NBA legend Karl Malone once said, “We don’t choose to be role models, we are chosen. Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one.”
This past Easter, newly acquired Jets quarterback Tim Tebow made a bold statement to the athletes who said they aren’t role models, responding, “Yes you are. You’re just not a good one.” It’s a stretch to assume that he’s directly referring to Charles Barkley’s Nike commercial back in 1993 where he says “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.” But Barkley’s past wrongs such as his oft-lampooned gambling addiction and the time he spat on an eight-year old girl in the face during a game does prove Tebow’s point.
Unfortunately, with several superstars behaving like overgrown children (I’m talking to you Brett Favre, Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Ndamukong Suh, and other primadonnas), the younger generation only learn what a man should not be like. The sports world will often come out with controversial headlines involving a star athlete in trouble. What message does it send to children when they learn the best basketball player to wear a Lakers jersey has slept with multiple women? What message does it send to the fans when a coach of a baseball team makes an insensitive comment regarding a hated dictator?
The sports world is surely growing in talent, but it is lacking in true men. The younger generation is left wondering what it means to grow up as the media exposes athletes doing dumb things left and right. In many ways I’m glad that athletes like Tim Duncan and Tim Tebow exist; athletes who are true men. They have demonstrated the following qualities throughout their careers.
1. The Discipline of Relationships: The ability to remain loyal to one wife and be a good father to the children.
2. The Discipline of Integrity: The ability to not only promote proper good conduct, but live it out every day.
3. The Discipline of Tongue: The ability to watch what they say and not draw negative attention to what they say.
4. The Discipline of Work: The ability to put honest work and effort to accomplish what needs to be done. No steroids or performance enhancers.
5. The Discipline of Perseverance: The ability to not be a quitter and finish what they’ve started.
6. The Discipline of Giving: The ability to not indulge in material wealth selfishly, but to also look out for those who are unfortunate.
Athletes who strive for these qualities have earned every right to be called a man and a role model. We already have enough terrible role models who have imparted on the youth that as long as you’re talented, it’s okay to be an ass. For once, this generation could use more Tim Duncans and Tim Tebows who are willing to put aside their childish ways and man up.