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Lane: Our athlete and celebrity role models

BY JOE LANE | DECEMBER 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Tiger Woods, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Michael Phelps, and Hope Solo. These are just a handful of the professional athletes who have allegedly done something ethically and/or legally wrong in the past several years. It’s difficult; it seems, to go an entire season of any major sport without hearing of at least one high-caliber athlete losing her or his “role model” status. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way because athletes shouldn’t be doing such terrible things. But more importantly, it doesn’t have to be this way because we don’t have to view athletes as role models off the field.

It’s true that athletes often act as role models both on and off the field, because for every story of an athlete using an illicit drug or abusing a family member, there are two or three stories of another athlete visiting a sick child in the hospital or starting a foundation.

For me, however, an athlete’s performance off the field isn’t something with which I concern myself. Athletes aren’t in our society to function as moral compasses. They are, however, ideal role models for improving our physical fitness and, honestly, that’s about where we should draw the line. Because the truth remains, their professional athlete status by no means diminishes how terrible and inexcusable some individual’s off field activity is.

Growing up, I watched Tiger Woods because he was unstoppable. This, however, all came crashing down when his philandering ways were exposed. I hated Tiger for what he did off the field, and since the scandal was exposed I have very little respect for him as an individual.

But the truth is, I still love watching Tiger, and to this day I still root for him.

When Tiger was exposed, the only thing that changed for me was how I view athletes. They were still role models, but for only one thing — their sport.

Today, when athletes’ images are destroyed — take Peterson from my beloved Vikings, for example — I don’t think twice about who they are as people. I’m disappointed and disgusted beyond belief by their actions (and I’ll probably take his poster off my wall), but I know that it doesn’t affect how I feel about the individual as an athlete because I don’t pay attention to them because of their moral standards.

After all, some of the greatest athletes in history weren’t great role models: Mike Tyson, Ty Cobb, and Oscar Pistorius, for example.

But I can’t say this about all famous individuals.

When sexual-assault allegations arose recently against Bill Cosby, I lost respect for him as an individual and as an actor.

Cosby’s most well-known role was that of the friendly and moral Dr. Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.” Unlike the aforementioned athletes, Cosby’s role in his career had him providing moral guidance and real-life advice to not only his fictitious family but to the viewers who tuned in every week, making the show one of the most popular of all time.

Whether or not it was right for him to become one, Cosby was viewed as role model by millions, including me.

I realize that I tread a thin line of which celebrities ought to be role models and which ought not, but I fear Cosby’s off-field (so to speak) activities revoke his position as a role model in my life and have forever tarnished my views of the wise advice I gained from his career.


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