Athletes as Role Models?

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A few months back I hinted at a future post about athletes and their role in our society as role models.

This past weekend I was reminded about my feelings on the subject. What I feel is what I believe to be the Torah approach but is of consequence and significance to anyone and everyone.

Over the weekend the NBA Conference Finals were settled. Something that happened after one team was eliminated has caused a media frenzy.

First, the Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA finals for the 30th time in 61 years. (yay!) That is serious excellence right there. For the non-fans this means that during the games you will be able to drive the speed limit on the 405 because everyone else will be inside watching the game.

Then on Saturday night the impossible happened. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated by the Orlando Magic. Why is this the impossible? LeBron is a “godlike” figure and was expected to “redeem” his team and city by bringing them to the “promised land”. I am not kidding. Sportscenter on ESPN had a segment where a Minister from Cleveland said that Clevelanders were beginning to worship “The King”. LeBron is the most celebrated human being on the planet and is idolized around the world.

Anyway, the poor guy loses in 6 games to the Magic.

Ironically, this gives ABC Broadcasting which is owned by Disney a Walt Disney World (Orlando) vs. Disneyland (LA) Championship. Talk about jackpot!

The custom in all sports is for the losing team to shake the hands of the winning team and congratulate them upon winning. In fact according to Websters, this is the very definition of “Sportsmanship”:

conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.

The word has been around since 1745 and is preached universally to all athletes and competitors.

LeBron was so upset about losing to the Magic that he left the court in a hurry and did not congratulate the winning team. This is a big no-no.

In fact, he was so upset by the loss he also skipped out on the mandatory press conference.

That is bad sportsmanship. No question about it.

Do I care?

Absolutely not.

I don’t expect better from an athlete. His excellence in Basketball has no bearing on his excellence in social skills, personal growth, intelligence, happiness or even sportsmanship. The only thing that he does that commands respect is his ball playing prowess. That is the only thing I look up to in this person.

Is he sending a bad message?


But I don’t turn to LeBron for messages on Sportsmanship. Nor do I turn to any athlete or celebrity for anything other than waht makes them unique or special.

As a parent it is my job to provide good role models for my children. I may need to be that role model at times. At other times it will teachers, Rabbis, family members or other people who command respect for their area of specialty. Athletes are not role models. Allowing an athlete to be the role model for your child is a failure in  your parenting.

Athletes may by chance turn out to be wonderful people whom we may respect for their abilities beyond sports, and that is great but it is not the norm. I myself have commented on some athletes ability to prepare for their games and we can learn about preparation from them. However, expecting athletes to be role models is a terrible idea.

I think parents get lazy and expect their children to learn good values without taking the time or effort to teach those values. When the child gets nothing from his parents, athletes may fill that void. Ultimately they will all disappoint us.

Be a role model and don’t rely on superhuman athletes to do it for you.