Just Because They Dunk Basketballs ...
by R. C., Westford, MA
On October 6, 1993, Michael Jordan announced his retirement from professional basketball, saying that he had nothing left to prove. This surprised many people inside and outside the NBA. It also prompted much discussion. Not long after Jordan made his announcement, I heard a radio call-in show about the unexpected retirement. One caller said that Jordan was sending the wrong message to kids by quitting something because he was getting tired of it. Another caller said that he was disappointed that Jordan did not use his fame as a podium to speak out against violence after his father was murdered during an armed robbery.
Lately many people have debated whether star athletes should serve as spokespersons for what is right. Last spring, another basketball superstar, Charles Barkley, raised some ire when, in one of his commercials, he said "I am not a role model" and "Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids." Also, Jordan himself received some criticism for his often extravagant gambling habits. These events, and others regarding the behavior of popular athletes, triggered a debate about their responsibilities toward their many fans, especially younger ones.
Without a doubt, more kids look up to sports stars like Jordan and Barkley than say President Clinton or perhaps even their parents. Players' actions can influence those of their admirers. But are these athletes obligated to set a good example for their young fans? I don't think so. I think athletes should try to be positive role models, but it would be unfair to say that they must. Even though Michael Jordan (and other superstars) may seem superhuman on the court or field, away from their games, they are no different from you or me. If Jordan feels that he doesn't enjoy basketball anymore, why should he continue playing, even if that would send the "right message" to kids? And what about speaking out against violence? I doubt the caller who suggested this would want to talk extensively about it in front of the whole country only months after his father's death.
If athletes could use their popularity as positive influences, they would be doing an important public service. But we cannot expect them to do so, only hope. And Barkley does have a point: parents should raise their kids, not athletes.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.