Marc, You and I have great respect for one another, which hopefully means you won’t mind if I (respectfully) disagree. I feel firmly that athletes absolutely are role models. Perhaps this is because I see the definition of “role model” differently than you do. I think a role model is anyone that some members of society look to for guidance and example. In or society, celebrities are our royalty. They’re followed now more than ever, thanks to 24/7 news cycles, the web and social media. As Robert Bly famously pointed out in “Iron John”, most of the fathers on TV these days are knuckleheads (think Al Bundy). Politicians have fallen from grace and many kids are being raised in single-parent homes. So kids are turning to their heroes.
Another point to consider, and this is something we tell our clients all of the time: athletes are not paid just to perform on the field. Team revenue comes from ticket sales, sponsorship sales and broadcast revenue. Those revenue streams are not only dependent upon the performance of the athletes, but on their character as well. Take a look at the turnaround in Portland. Their philosophy is “we’d rather lose with good guys than win with bad guys”. And by committing to players with character, they won back the community and now the team is winning again.
As a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, the Big Ben thing has hit close to home. Luckily I’ve been able to shield my 9-year old son from the fall of his hero. But Big Ben was one of his role models. I didn’t plan it that way, but watching Ben play has made my son a raving fan. He’d be crushed if he knew what happened. So even though I don’t like it, Big Ben is a role model. At least in my house. A failed role model, but a role model regardless.
So my take is, whether they like it or not, pro athletes absolutely are role models. They’re being watched by the fans, especially the kids. They need to accept that fact and act accordingly. As you can see in the cases of Big Ben and Tiger, fans no longer accept an athlete only for his talent. They expect character as well.