Americans have always idolized our sports stars. This has been going on since Babe Ruth first swung a bat. I was no exception growing up. The heroes of my youth were men like Roger Staubach, Brooks Robinson, and Bill Russell. Today's kids have no doubt kept this tradition alive. However, there is one difference between the athletes of the present and the stars of the past.
Most of the sports stars of my era were actually worthy of my respect. This is not necessarily the case anymore.
The greatest linebacker in NFL history has been charged with raping a teen-age girl. The Super Bowl winning quarterback from two years ago has been accused of the same crime — twice within the last year. The wide receiver who caught the winning pass in the Super Bowl three years ago is in prison. The greatest golfer of all-time likes to bang porn stars, much to the chagrin of his wife. Baseball's all-time home run leader is under indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, we could add many more to this list.
Don't get me wrong — I know a lot of the present day athletes are solid, upstanding citizens. In fact, there are more good ones than bad ones. Unfortunately, in today's world of tabloid journalism, their good deeds are not considered newsworthy. Likewise, there were some incorrigible characters back in my youth. We just didn't have the same intense media scrutiny back then that we have now. Their misdeeds were either covered up or not reported.
However, there is really no disputing that, as a whole, the moral fiber of jockdom has been in a steady decline for quite some time. Charles Barkley caught a lot of heat several years ago when he said, "I'm not a role model... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids." But Sir Charles is 100% correct — we cannot automatically idolize someone solely because of their physical talents.
We seem to have lost sight of the fact that respect is something that has to be earned. I do not begrudge the athletes their multi-million dollar contracts or instant fame. But the fact is that there are real heroes out there — men and women who display courage and unselfishness on a daily basis. And while we never hear about these people, I submit to you that these are the folks we should hold up as good examples to our youth:
- Single parents;
- The men and women in our military, especially the combat veterans and those who are serving overseas;
-. Law enforcement and emergency response personnel;
- Community volunteers;
- Medical researchers;
- The average American worker, who keeps our economy going;
- Those with physical or mental handicaps, who refuse to let their disability keep them down.
In a perfect world, these are the people we should be praising and rewarding with the $75 million contracts. However, as Lawrence Taylor, Ben Roethlisberger, Plaxico Burress, Tiger Woods and Barry Bonds have demonstrated, our world, not to mention our priorities, are anything but perfect.
And with that I will climb down off my soap box.