By Orville Higgins
It was a big talking point on my call-in radio programme at KLAS FM 89 for much of the past week. Some people were adamant that celebrities, generally, and sports stars, in particular, should always see themselves as role models and carry themselves accordingly at all times.
Others like myself feel differently. I maintain that not because an individual has a great propensity to hit a ball to distant parts on a cricket field, or dunk a basketball better than others, there should be any greater responsibility on him to be a role model than anybody else.
Mind you, I would be happy if all sports stars were model citizens, who go to church every week, pay their offering and tithes; are decent, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, and are doting fathers who never beat their wives! That would be wonderful, but I don't expect to see pigs flying.
Sports stars provide the public with great entertainment. The better they are, the greater the emotional satisfaction that they give to adoring fans. Because of the emotional high that they sometimes put us on, sometimes we are tempted to elevate them to godlike status. But that, essentially, is where we go terribly wrong.
Still a man!
A man who has superb sports talent is still a man, with all the frailties and deficiencies that ail all of us. We make a grave mistake of believing that because a man is a great footballer or tennis player or boxer, that he is any more of a wonderful human being than anybody else. Not true! Or, at the very least, not necessarily true!
We expect these high-profile sports people to be role models and act like paragons of virtue, because we falsely assume that high-quality performance on the field necessarily means high-quality standards and morals off the field. The two don't automatically follow, of course.
We should put ourselves in that mental space where we can appreciate what they do to entertain us in the sporting arena, but yet understand that off the field they are fallible mortals.
Expecting sports stars to be role models, merely because they are sports stars, is illogical, and unfair. The people who we should hold to high moral standards, and insist that they be models for us all to emulate, are preachers and politicians.
Politicians come to us seeking votes to put them in a position of power. "Vote for me," they tell us, "because we are not corrupt, we put people first, we believe in justice and fair play, and we are all about uplifting the welfare of the common man." Yadda-yadda-yadda! These people should be held to a higher degree of scrutiny than the rest of us.
Preachers take it even a step higher. They tell us that they have received a calling from God himself to preach to us ordinary folks about our reckless and sinful ways. They put up themselves as an example for us to follow. These people should be role models by the very definition of what they are about.
Sports stars are different. Sure, they will boast about their exploits on the field, but they never sell themselves to us that they are anything else.
many not bright
They can kick and jump and run and throw brilliantly, but in many cases, that's it. I have spoken and interacted with too many of these sporting icons to expect anything else. Many of them, truth be told, are not particularly bright, outside of the sports which they dominate. You sometimes wonder how these sports stars, who make such brilliant decisions on a field, can sometimes make such poor decisions off it.
Many of these sports stars endorse products, and collect huge bucks, and yes, in cases like that, they are expected to behave in a way that represents how the owners of the product would want them to. But outside of that, we ought not to put any pressure on them to behave in any particular way once the lights are off.
True, children need heroes, they need idols on whom they can model their own lives. But parents must realise that they should be their children's first, and indeed biggest, role models. Expecting somebody to be a role model to your child, or society in general, merely because he can kick a ball is a very dangerous thing.
Orville Higgins is a sportscaster. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.