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Teach your children the danger of worshiping pro athletes

Ryan Slabaugh

Every time ex-NBA star Charles Barkley turns on CNN for the Kobe case, he must start giggling uncontrollably.

The NBA villain of the 1980s and 1990s, who swore over and over that he was not a role model, must be busting the same gut that earned him the nickname “Round Mound of Rebound.”

Seriously. Tears must be shooting from his eyes like fireworks.

And you know what? He’s laughing so hard, he can’t even say, “I told you so.” The fact that professional athletes are not role models has become abundantly clear this summer. From Kobe Bryant’s adultery admittance to Mike Tyson’s daily reminder, the pedestal athletes are placed on has begun to crumble.

In all of this hubbub, parents are caught in a strange situation. While, it’s nice to use well-known athletes as examples for their children to follow (see Lance Armstrong), the fact is, it’s a dangerous precedent to set. For example, what do you do when little Johnny wants to wear his Kobe jersey?

“Quite honestly, these people are not role models,” said Chad Spears, a counselor at Mountain Counseling Center in Frisco. Spears works with youth of all ages. “Role models are the people in your everyday life. Your teacher, your mother, your coach – they’re the people that need to be role models because they’re the people in every day life.”

One Chicago columnist, when writing about Sammy Sosa’s corked-bat incident, suggested parents start by telling their kids that athletes are not perfect.

Then, after clearing your throat, yell, “If you ever do anything like this … ” and so on. The message was clear: Dialogue was needed to educate the youth that athletes, no matter how seemingly wholesome or innocent, are products of mass-marketing. Gatorade is sugar water. Coors Light is still beer, no matter where it gets its water. And, yes, we all know the folks we elected to office have made poor choices.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Spears said. “Part of life is you can’t be perfect. It’s more about what you do afterwards. Do you set up and take responsibility? It’s how you can let this affect your life.”

Summit High School counselor Debora Luckett said she’s noticed how students allow athletes to become role models. As sports teams begin practice Monday and school shortly after, she said she’ll be interested to see what kind of dialogue the Kobe incident creates.

“I’m not sure what they will be,” Luckett said. “We don’t know the evidence. I don’t know how the guys and girls deal with this.”

Luckett added that the opportunity is available to educate boys and girls on relationships, what is abusive and what services are available.

“I think it’s important to deal with this almost the same, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl,” Luckett said. “Everyone can be a victim, even if it is notoriously the girls.”

While the media receives most of the blame for deifying athletes, it is a shared responsibility. Members of the Poynter Institute, the watchdog of the media, have ridiculed the coverage of the Kobe case, saying “it’s brought out the worst in American journalism.”

So, admittedly, we’re part of the problem, but not the whole problem.

Barkley, after he spit on an 8-year-old fan, said he was aiming for a heckler. Kobe swears he’s innocent. Bankrupt Mike Tyson’s suing his promoter, Don King, for mismanagement of funds worth $300 million. Pete Rose won’t admit he gambled, while Jordan did. The list goes on. The question remains, what do we do about it?

Ryan Slabaugh can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 257, or at

rslabaugh@summitdaily.com.


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