Five years ago, my mom bought me a Ben Roethlisberger jersey and said, “Go Steelers.” She told me to wear it on game days to support the Black and Gold. What she didn’t say was, “Here, Bri – take this jersey and emulate Big Ben’s moral code.” In fact, it would’ve been strange if she had said that. Why, then, do we hold these athletes to such a high public standard simply because of their media attention?
In my opinion, the primary responsibility of professional athletes should be to train and compete in their respective sports. If they practice hard and play an honest game, they are fulfilling the duties to the public as role models.
The counterpoint argument usually goes something like this: professional athletes are icons in the public domain. Our youth look up to them as the real-life superheroes of our world. Their fans also give them an almost divine degree of reverence. When they engage in immoral or illegal activities, they have let the public down and should not be allowed to participate in their sport.
Before continuing, let me clarify: I do not condone these actions. They are a poor display of morality and ethics and speak volumes to the true lack of principles these individuals have. But in the realm of professional sports, it is not their job to model how to be a good person; it is their job to be the best competitors they can be.
The debate often comes down to the question of whether or not they should be welcomed back onto their fields or if they should be stricken from the game forever. At this point, I think that it’s important to break their actions down into two categories: legal and illegal.
If a person breaks the law, his status as an athlete should not lessen or eliminate the punishment. Whatever their crime, they should serve the maximum sentence if they are proven guilty. It is a bad reflection on the sports organization (NFL, PGA, USA Cycling, etc.) if they overlook a crime simply to gain viewership.
If, however, the individual does not violate the law and the courts find him innocent, there should be no further consideration. The public should trust the opinion of the courts and give the accused the benefit of the doubt.
Another angle I have heard is that these athletes are representatives of their cities. As such, they should be respectful of their city’s name and act with dignity.
While I understand the thought behind this, I believe that the team as a whole is what represents the city – not the team as a group of individuals, but one collective unit that comes together to compete against other teams.
The media is largely to blame for the attention these athletes receive. They exploit the personal lives of every one involved with the cases. Often times, the media sensationalizes conflicts that should be kept between the individuals involved.
I agree; it would be wonderful if we lived in a world where all public figures acted as role models to their loyal fans. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, so we should be realistic and recognize that these individuals and will make mistakes. At the end of the day, they are competitors whose main focus should be competing.