“I am not a role model”
Remember when bad-boy Charles Barkley told us he wasn’t paid to be a role model? That parents should be role models? And by the way, parents, you could be great role models if you buy my shoes?
It was a controversial message in 1993 — kids look up to you, Charles, and not just because you’re tall! — but it’s been reinforced in spades these past few weeks.
First, there was Michael Phelps, suckin’ the bong.
Now there are two stories, one huge, and one developing.
The huge one, as you probably guessed, is Alex Rodriguez’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003, an admission goosed out of him by an SI.com report that his was one of the 104 samples that tested positive for two anabolic steroids in 2003.
Rodriguez told ESPN’s Peter Gammons that he started taking PEDs after signing a $250 million contract with Texas, that he felt pressure to live up to the contract and being baseball’s greatest player, and that, hey, the other cool kids were doing it. (I’ll let others dissect the connection between Rodriguez easily folding under the pressure of his contract to his easily folding under the pressure of the playoffs.) The surprise here was that Rodriguez had an image of being clean. A self-absorbed asshole, but clean.
My gosh, what do we tell the children?
The developing story is Dwyane Wade’s divorce, which is nasty, nasty, nasty, and undermining his image as a clean-living, religious, family man. Basically, based on the papers being filed in the divorce from his high-school sweetheart and the allegations of a former business associate, that image is Bizarro Wade.
The allegations (all denied by Wade’s people): he gave his wife STD’s; he had pot-and-sex parties (hey, Michael Phelps wants to know when he gets invited); he’s pretty much abandoned his children; he’s a lousy businessman.
What do we tell the children?
Well, first we tell them their charter school isn’t named after him anymore.
The Rodriguez thing seems not to have sent the nation’s youth into a tailspin. The steroid discussion in baseball has gone on so long, and will go on so much longer, the biggest conversation with kids is not to tell them tearfully that their hero is made of clay. It’s to tell them, and their parents, that maybe going all-in on dreams of a baseball career might not be a good idea if even the league’s best player thinks you need performance-enhancing drugs to get by. President Obama said during his news conference last night that the lesson is there are “no shortcuts,” but he’s wrong: there ARE shortcuts, and the question is whether it’s worth it to take them. After all, most young players who try steroids still aren’t going to get near the major-league level.
The Wade thing is a little more personal for me because my kids are more than likely (unless we win the lottery to pay for private school) going to go to his old high school, which happens to have a new basketball court paid for by Wade, er, one of his sponsors. He even got Kanye West, who went to a nearby high school, and Jennifer Hudson to show up for the dedication.
I know the superintendent for Wade’s old high school, and he has talked glowingly of how nice Wade is, and how great it was to deal with his family. Wade is still very involved with ol’ Richards High, coming back to watch his school win a state championship, and filming a shoe commercial there.
Heck, my wife once struck up a conversation with Wade’s mom at the UPS Store while she was shipping his trophies to Miami.
Fortunately, the Wade situation doesn’t seem to be filtering to the youth of America, and not to the youth of my household. (UPDATE, JUNE 4, 2009: Wade has filed a libel suit against his old business associate over the pot-and-sex party claims. And, previously, the allegations in the divorce case about giving his wife STDs were dropped.)
What would I tell them if they asked? Well, that just because somebody is a sports star doesn’t make them a good person, and just because somebody does bad things doesn’t mean they can never be a good person. And that athletes and celebrities are not role models.
So says Charles Barkley, who should know.