“I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” – Charles Barkley
I did not watch the so-called “Fight of the Century” between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao a few weeks ago. I find Mayweather to be morally reprehensible so I wasn’t even the least bit curious about the event. ESPN, a U.S.-based sports network, is capable of some excellent sports journalism. They have done several provocative documentaries that delve deep into the sometimes seedy underbelly of the sports world. During the week leading up to the fight, ESPN reporters presented some scathing exposes about Mayweather and even tried to confront him and his entourage about his abusive past. Yet at the same time, ESPN also broadcasted live from Las Vegas for the entire week, glossing over Mayweather’s crimes while effusively hyping the fight.
The National Football League has a serious issue with player conduct off the field the past few seasons. There have been a rash of reports about domestic violence, sexual assaults, and even murder being committed by active NFL players. The talking heads on the sports networks tend to excuse this behavior by telling us that “football is a violent game” They are also quick to forgive these abhorrent actions because they are duped by a disingenuous letter of apology written by a player’s agent or a tearful mea culpa at a press conference. The NFL is a financial juggernaut and the networks who cover their games dare not bite the hand that feeds. There have times where the brazen immorality displayed by the players tempted me to stop watching football altogether. Then game day rolls around and there I am, having fallen off my moral high horse, on the couch with remote in hand.
For many people, especially children, professional athletes are seen as heroes. They proudly wear their beloved team’s jerseys and anxiously await the opportunity to watch their favourite player’s next game. And that’s fantastic. A child’s first experience with sports should be one filled with awe and wonder. There’s nothing better than seeing a father bring his kids to a hockey or baseball game for the first time. The looks on their faces is priceless as they are mesmerised by every little facet of a live sporting event. Having attended countless events live, I tend to take this experience for granted. But I remember being amazed by how big and how fast the players were in person, and how electric it is to be part of 17,000 screaming fans.
As I’ve gotten older, my interest in sports has waned over the years. I still consider myself a sports fan, but I’m not as knowledgeable as I once. I’ve become a little jaded by the corporate nature of sports and by the exorbitant salaries of the players. But to children and die hard sports fans, none of that seems to matter. Their love for sports is genuine and there’s a real tribal nature that binds the fans of their favourite teams. At its core, sports (both watching and participating in), can be a pure, wonderful experience. It teaches us about teamwork, dedication, and how to be gracious in victory as well as defeat.
I have the deepest admiration for athletes who dedicate countless hours to charitable causes, not because they have to, but because they want to. And despite my criticisms of the modern sports landscape, there are more good athletes than bad. The good ones see and appreciate the sick children they visit as real people and not as photo ops.
While it may be unfair to put pro athletes on a pedestal, to many they are heroes and even role models. Whether they like it or not, the world is watching their every move and they need to set a positive example for others. There is no harm in idolizing an athlete, but to me, the real superstars are our family, friends, and the other unsung heroes that are part of our everyday lives.
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost.” – Arthur Ashe
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