why do we make athletes role models

As many as 59 percent of adolescents can identify a role model in their lives, according to research published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. Of the adolescents with role models, those that looked to athletes were more likely to make positive health-related decisions. The fact is, not all athletes are positive role models. Unfortunately some athletes engage in negative behavior, but overall, the athletic lifestyle lends itself to a position of positive role modeling for adolescents. To stay on top of their game, athletes have to engage in regular, vigorous activity. In a relatively sedentary culture where much of life revolves around TV shows and video games, athletes model the benefits of physical activity to children and adolescents in a very real way. Athletes make a living from being fit, healthy and strong. Just by hitting the field or the court, athletes give children the opportunity to see that physical activity has the ability to pay off.


One of the reasons girls should play sports is for the boost in confidence they receive, according to the TeensHealth website. You can see this confidence in action when watching professional athletes. On the field and off the field, athletes embody a sense of confidence in themselves and their team. This sense of confidence is one of the reasons that athletes make good role models -- they show youth how important it is to believe in themselves and those around them. Athletes have to work hard to stay on top of their game. The time baseball players dedicate to the sport goes well beyond the two or three hour daily practice. They spend time stretching, watching tape and working on their swing. Then they hit the gym and lift weights or hit the field to work on their speed. They may spend six-to-eight hours a day just on baseball, plus the time traveling on buses and playing in doubleheaders on the weekends.


Adolescents who see athletes as role models learn to mimic the work ethic that it takes to become a top athlete. Athletes learn early that if they want to play the game, they have to make the grades. Even as early as middle school athletics, a failing grade will prevent an athlete from being allowed to play. When youth look to high school, college or professional athletes as role models, they understand that those athletes had to make a commitment both on and off the field to excellence. High school athletes won't play if they don't make the grades. Colleges will only recruit athletes that can get accepted into their school, then athletes can only play if they pass their classes. And while some professional athletes get drafted straight out of high school, most still have to prove themselves as college athletes to get a look.


It's a chain that requires at least some dedication to academics to succeed as a money-making athlete.
The All Blacks squeaky-clean image has been tarnished in recent weeks due to an off-field incident that has left a stain on the proud legacy of one world sport s most famous brands. Dynamic All Black halfback Aaron Smith was caught with the proverbial hand in the cookie jar this week in an accessible bathroom (with a woman other than his partner notwithstanding) at Christchurch International Airport. Now, the behaviour of entering a bathroom allocated for people with a disability is in itself more than enough cause for moral angst. However, a lot of the vitriol directed at Smith this week is more of the he s a role model line, which has the issue of the way we revere our sporting heroes at heart. First and foremost, Aaron Smith is no role model. And nor should he be. He plies his trade in a unique environment and has to follow certain standards to which All Blacks should behave which is vital to the longevity and glorious history of this team.


But I believe this does not allow people to tag a young man with a moniker of being a role model. Everywhere you look in sports, the media are poised and ready to pounce at the slightest indiscretion of a famous player in some sort of compromising situation. Everyone would remember the infamous Sonny Bill Williams toilet tryst and more recently a severely inebriated Mitchell Pierce in a less than flattering video. Why do we always hear that these men and women who happen to be good at their chosen sporting pursuit automatically qualify as a role model? We need to respect these people by recognising one thing. Their humanity. I, of course, believe in the due diligence here from a standpoint of ensuring people are punished for indiscretions relating to contractual obligations.


But why do people feel personally let down when athletes do something to prove they are, lo and behold, human. These sportsmen and women do not owe anyone of us a thing. They deal with the intense scrutiny regarding their form, job prospects and have their wages proclaimed in headlines around the world. This does not mean Joanne and Joe Bloggs can use them as a way to raise their children and then screech aghast when they make a mistake with camera phones at the ready to drop them down from the lofty pedestal we, as a sporting public, put them on in the first place. It s time we grew up as a sporting audience a moved away from the romantic idea of these people as better or more noble than you or I. They are exciting to watch and provide great memories and moments and offer us inspiration at times which can be enticing. But they are definitely not role models.