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Bull Models

Feb 3, 2009

I'm sure many of you have read or heard about the recent flap with Michael Phelps after a photo of him with abong surfaced. Phelps ended up issuing a big apology for his actions, and as learned more about this I couldn't help thinking that this seemed an awful lot of attention over something pretty stupid. Then I read this article today and decided to post some thoughts on it.

In some ways, this all goes back to the whole 'role model athlete' idea. Those who make it big in professional sports are supposed to be 'role models' for kids, or some nonsense like that. I've always thought this was a pretty silly notion, pointing to a famous athlete and saying, "Now Johnny, be like him!"

Sure, there's a good reason to point to someone successful and tell your kid to strive for that, but isn't the idea of the 'role model athlete' a bit much? Are you really sure that having your child think he can be Michael Jordan is a good thing? The problem with many of the finer examples of athleticism is that they're so rare. For every Michael Phelps you have a Dennis Rodman, for every Michael Jordan a John Rocker.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, makes sense as a person to try to emulate. It's highly unlikely you'll be President, but the effort to get there will still put you ahead in life. Studying, working hard, community service...all good things to be a part of. Trying to be a pro football player, though? Well, hope you don't blow that knee or be driven so hard in a school practice that you die. And even if you work really really hard, without the natural gifts most top athletes have, you probably won't make it.

I'm not saying I'm against sports, they can be great socializing activities and they do contribute to a pursuit of excellence. What I am saying is that we need to stop making these people out to be above the rest of us in anything other than what's on the playing field (or swimming pool.)  Michael Phelps, the top gold winning Olympian of all time, should not have to apologize for smoking pot. It's his life, let him do what he wants.