What makes a role model?
There has been a lot of discussion lately about role models, especially when we talk about the disaster that is the NFL today. We see a man who makes millions of dollars beating a woman. We see another man who whips a child. We see these things and we shake our heads and say things like:
“Doesn’t he know he’s a role model?”
“People look up to him.”
But you know what? I look at millionaires who don’t know how to not beat women and children and ask why are these me “role models?” Who made them role models? Are these really the best role models we can come up with? There is nothing that inherently prevents a ball player from being a role model (I don’t even buy the argument that “football is a violent game, therefore players can’t be role models”). But are players role models just because they put on a jersey?
If any good can come out of these situations, I think it is that maybe, just maybe we as a sports obsessed society will stop and think and maybe even reevaluate who we are elevating to the level of role model in the first place.
When the “Role Models” Lack Role Models
One of the most glaring faults in our culture of “role models” is the fact that we are surprised when our so-called “role models” do not act like upstanding citizens.
The fact is, we do not know the men who entertain us. They are hidden behind face masks. At best, they give ten-second soundbites to the local news, and they all sound the same. Maybe a few of them ink an endorsement deal with a major brand.
But other than their stats, we do not know these men. We have no business pointing our sons to perfect strangers and saying “Be like that guy.”
The thing about many of the young men on the field (it is easy to forget that most of them are young men) have actually not had many positive role models of their own. Many players grew up in broken homes. Many of them did not have a strong male in their own lives. And now they suddenly have millions of dollars and don’t know how to behave accordingly.
So I ask again, what is the threshold for a young man to achieve the status of “role model?”
What “Role” Are Athletes Modeling, Anyway?
I have previously discussed the absurd sports obsession we allow our boys to indulge themselves in. While our daughters are dreaming of careers of service: teaching, medicine, or science, our boys are allowed, even encouraged to dream of glorious athletic conquest on the field.
I never had this fantasy, perhaps because I knew from an early age that I lacked all of the necessary talents which our society lavishes millions of dollars upon.
But I think it raises another interesting question: why are athletes automatically role models in the first place?
Are they role models because they make millions of dollars? Is being a millionaire the highest goal that we want our boys to aspire to?
Are athletes role models because they can have opulent homes and a lot of material possessions?
Are they just role models because they are good at what they do? Why don’t we consider doctors or lawyers to be in the same league as athletes?
Tell me, what qualities do athletes inherently possess that make them worthy of being praised as role models? I am at a loss. There is absolutely no correlation between being a professional athlete and being the kind of man that I want my boy to emulate. There are plenty of athletes who are decent people. But the two are unrelated.
What Kind of Men Do We Want Our Boys to Be?
How many of our boys want to be ball players when they grow up? A heck of a lot.
But how many of our boys, when we ask what kinds of men do they want to be, answer “I want to be a good husband”?
Or “I want to be a great dad to my kids.”?
“I want to be kind to people.”
“I want to be humble.”
“I want to be generous with my money.”
“I want to help people in need.”
“I want to be like Jesus.”
I defy you to find one boy in a hundred who would give an answer even remotely like any of those. They won’t answer that way because we don’t teach them to answer that way. We still don’t present Jesus as a role model to our boys and we still don’t teach the gospel as something to aspire to. We still teach our boys to value money, power, fame, glory and sexual conquest. And when the world doesn’t do what you want, you give it a knock-out punch until it conforms to your will.
It’s not the athletes who make themselves out to be role models. It’s parents. So look at the role models we have and it will illustrate the values we are passing along to the next generation.
I think I’m scared.
What about you? Is it time we started being more selective about who gets the title of “role model?”