Who's Your Role Model?
by Dr. John E.
Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
Every time I hear about another professional athlete
getting into legal trouble, I want to scream.
Itís not so much the law-breaking that bothers me ó itís
the follow-up statements by analysts who claim that these individuals
shouldnít have done the illegal or immoral act because they are ďrole models
for our youth.Ē
Professional athletics, like movies and other
high-visibility entertainment occupations, will have their share of
individuals who do things unacceptable to society. These folks break laws
just like ordinary people. They have personal problems like ordinary people,
and they live and die like the rest of us. They belong to the human race
and, before we start referring to them as role models, letís make sure they
have earned the moniker by doing something really worthwhile. Making a lot
of money or displaying great athletic skills are not reasons for a person to
be considered a role model.
I would hope that every childís role models would be mom
and dad; but in the real world, thatís probably a bit naive. Kids look at
whatís popular in society and naturally want to be part of that. I have a
sweatshirt with words written on the front proclaiming Iím the worldís
greatest grandfather. I know thatís not true, but my grandkids gave it to me
so I wear it. I, like millions of other fans, also wear shirts that have the
colors of my favorite sports teams and usually the number of some star
player. Iím a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan and wear Steelers apparel a lot,
especially since they have become winners. As a kid growing up in western
Pennsylvania, I went to Steelers games when they seldom won. They even
practiced at the college where I got my undergraduate degree, and a former
Steelersí tight end named Val Jansentte was my high school football coach.
Two years ago I read an article in a sports magazine about
the Steelersí Super Bowl MVP, Hines Ward, which included information about
his ethnic background. He is both African-American and Asian. My adopted
grandson Brandon is Asian, so I decided to make a collage of pictures that
included Brandon, his grandmother, and Hines Ward making a Super Bowl catch.
Wardís ability to overcome some of the problems associated
with a multi-ethnic background, along with his work in helping Asian
children, are traits I admire. I also like his work ethic. I sent the
picture to the Steelersí front office and asked if they could forward it to
Hines for a signature. I told him about my grandson and other family history
that led to Brandonís adoption, hoping that Ward would sign the picture. Iím
pleased to say he did and it now hangs on a wall in Brandonís home. I also
have a copy hanging in my house. I thought about doing the same thing with
Tiger Woods because of his ethnic background. But I just never sent the
collage to Woods ó somehow, I had the feeling he wouldnít sign it. Now Iím
glad I didnít. Athletes, like movie stars, provide us with entertainment ó
period. Seldom do they earn the status of role model. Mr. Woods will realize
itís much easier to accumulate and keep money than it is to be a genuine
Hanging on the wall next to me are pictures of myself and
several politicians. Iím trying to figure out why I have their pictures on
the wall. I guess I wanted to show others that I have a connection to the
political community. I know itís not because I think they are role models.
Politicians seldom rise to the level of role model, although they should.
The failure of a politician to reach role-model status is as much a
reflection on the voter as the politician. There just arenít many Honest
Abes around. Our political system centers on money, and when money is
involved, there is increased potential for mischief. You donít have to look
hard to find the bad in politics, so maybe itís best to move in another
direction when seeking role models.
Older people should be role models for our youth. Aging
implies a certain level of maturity and by extension, respect; but age alone
doesnít automatically warrant role-model status. Iíve always told my
children that just because someone is a senior citizen doesnít mean you must
respect them. Respect should be earned. Iíve also emphasized to my children
that you shouldnít show disrespect ó offer common courtesy to seniors
whenever you can. When each of us reaches senior status, letís hope we will
have gained the respect of our immediate family. Maybe then we can eliminate
the need for some athlete to serve as a role model.
When I think of ďrole model,Ē a few individuals stand out:
Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and Pope John Paul
II. Some in the sports community, like Arnold Palmer and Tony Dungy, also
stand out. These individuals exhibited traits espoused in the Ten
Commandments and, really, those 10 rules are all you need. All kids need to
do is be able to recognize those good traits. Role models are individuals
who live in various environments displaying those traits over an extended
period of time.
As a society we expect people in some professions ó such
as teachers, doctors, law-enforcement officers, clergy and nurses, to name a
few ó to display those valued traits. Politicians and lawyers should be in
that category but ... Iíll let you finish the sentence.
As for entertainers and athletes, enjoy what they do and
admire the money they make, just donít elevate them as role models. The
description ďrole modelĒ should require the individual to exhibit the
highest standards of human behavior.
It would be a much better world if all moms and dads met
these ďrole modelĒ standards. This grandpap still needs a little fine tuning.