What is a role model and what effects do role models have?
The term role model is defined as “a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially younger people” (Random House Dictionary). Accordingly, a brain surgeon or airline pilot can be a role model for similarly motivated boys and girls. Role models may have a considerable impact on a person’s values, education, and chosen training objectives. For example, they have been shown to have significant effects on female students’ self-confidence in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields.
What about sport stars as role models?
There’s a history of speculation and argument about athletes taking on the status of role models. In 1993, Nike ran a ground-breaking TV commercial from early April through the end of the NBA playoffs. The ad featured Charles Barkley proclaiming “I am not a role model.” At the time, he was a superstar hoopster for the Phoenix Suns, and his comment generated quite a stir, as he staunchly defended his position.
What was so controversial about what “Sir Charles” said?
He emphasized that athletes’ ability to make baskets or catch touchdown passes has nothing to do with being a role model. That is, having sporting ability doesn’t automatically qualify a person to be a role model. Rather, Barkley believed that’s a job for parents. I agree and would include teachers and coaches who spend a huge amount of time with kids and influence their upbringing and future success.
Like it or not, our society has a strong dependence on athletes as role models for children and adolescents.
Athletes are role models whether or not they choose to take on the responsibility, and whether they are good or bad role models. But athlete “hero worship” wasn’t always as prevalent as it is today. There was a time when others served as America’s role models (civic leaders, clergy, legal and medical experts, etc.). It might be argued that the shift reflects decay in our nation’s moral standards.
On the other hand, some exceptional athletes have important messages for their fans. For example, former heavyweight boxing champ Lennox Lewis made a significant contribution to youngsters’ understanding of appropriate masculine behavior, when he made a public service announcement that “Real men don’t hit women.” The point is clear: Athletes have an incredible opportunity to use their celebrity power to positively influence the next generation.
What are the qualities that make an athlete a good role model?
A word of caution is warranted.
Youngsters who believe their sport heroes are the most fantastic people in the world and can do no wrong are vulnerable to disappointment. Why? Because examples of fallen stars are many, such as Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong who admitted to the use of performance enhancing drugs. When a revered athlete goes astray, it can create disillusionment and even trauma. So, here’s the bottom line: Kids shouldn’t be allowed to become too attached to athletes as role models.