An age old debate has once again been brought to light as outspoken NBA analyst Charles Barkley made headlines recently by repeatedly insisting that professional athletes have no place as role models for young fans. Barkley argues that kids’ true role models should be parents, grandparents and other family members because athletes, as we have seen numerous times in the past, will inevitably let them down. This, he says, means that athletes have no responsibility to act as examples for the younger generation.
He could not be more wrong. As long as athletic events continue to be held in this country, children everywhere will place their sports heroes on pedestals and admire their every action. Nearly every young boy and girl in America has at least one athlete who they view as an idol, and they will inevitably look to them as a role model. What Barkley’s argument fails to take note of is the large number of professional athletes who have used their fame and standing as public figures to make profound impacts on their communities. Instead it centers on those who have failed to live up to our high expectations. For every Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Michael Vick out there, there are 10 more good-hearted athletes who understand the responsibility that comes with their publicity. Anyone who disagrees with this need look no further than the recent storyline regarding former Alabama running back and soon to be NFL draftee Trent Richardson.
Richardson garnered national headlines over the weekend in a story that has been described as nothing short of heartwarming. Seventeen-year-old Alabama fan and leukemia survivor Courtney Alvis never even planned on attending her prom. That is until she received a one in a lifetime offer from her favorite athletes. Richardson said the move to escort Alvis was made partially in honor of his late mother, who passed away as a result of cancer several years ago, but also in an effort to connect with a special young fan. Donning his finest white tuxedo, Richardson accompanied the Hueytown High School senior to the dance last Saturday. In a turn of events beyond her wildest dreams, Alvis was named prom queen as the night came to a close.
New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow delivered an indirect response to Barkley’s comments on Easter Sunday while speaking to a crowd of 15,000 in Texas. During his speech Tebow reiterated his belief that it is the duty of those in the public spotlight to act in a way that conveys a positive message to young fans. Tebow, perhaps more than any other athlete, has exemplified this through his work with children battling life-threatening illnesses.
It is unlikely that there will ever come a time when young people stop viewing their sports heroes as role models, and because of this these athletes have a responsibility to act accordingly, whether they ask for it or not. This is something that both Tebow and Richardson have come to embrace, and we can only hope that others do so as well.