Years ago, I was miffed at Charles Barkley when he stood up and said, "I am not a role model."
I think the reason it bothered me was because when I was growing up, athletes were role models (or at least they appeared to be). Charles saying he nor any athlete should be a role model burrowed under my skin.
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Last night, in the first part of a two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong admitted to lying, cheating, and more-or-less stealing when he used performance enhancing drugs to capture 7 Tour de France titles. The second part airs tonight, and who knows what other jewels will be uncovered.
Te'o's woes came to light this week when online news agency Deadspin broke the story that his "girlfriend," who supposedly died of leukemia just a few hours after his grandmother back in September, never really existed. The following 36 hours have been a whirlwind of people trying to figure out what are lies, what are truths and what are half-truths. Stay tuned.
The steroid era in baseball was the poster child for Barkley's mantra. If you played Major League Baseball from the late 80s through the early 2000s, no matter how clean your persona, you will forever be linked with cheaters, guilty or not. Bonds and Clemens, Sosa and McGwire, Canseco and Palmeiro. Every player suffering for their collective actions and forever linked to their legacy.
Perhaps when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, I was fooling myself when I called guys like Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente, Roger Staubach and Gale Sayers, Oscar Robinson and Jerry West my heroes. I saw in them, or so I thought, the man I wanted to become. One who would woo the world with a game-winning knock, or a touchdown in overtime, or a last-second buzzer-beater arched high off the glass. With the exception of Clemente, though, it was never what they did off the field that I wanted to emulate. In fact, I'm not even sure I could tell you back then what, if anything, those guys did off the field.
Now, the off-field exploits seem so much more in the forefront, but for all the wrong reasons. Maybe the media is to blame for exposing the underbelly that we didn't see back in those days. Or perhaps the fans are to blame for lusting after the athlete's dirty laundry.
When a story is done on Tim Tebow going on a mission trip, people just dismiss it and call him a holier-than-thou attention hound looking for publicity. But in the last few days, there has been a feeding frenzy surrounding Te'o, with fans circling like sharks ready to devour every juicy detail. We as a society apparently love to hear the muck, or even provide some of our own, even when it's completely baseless.
Or, maybe we can just place the blame right where it belongs -- at the feet of the athletes themselves.
I'm inclined to agree with you now, Charles. None of you are role models any more.