Traci Wall The Signal
It is tough to watch star athletes nosedive off the edge of glory, especially when so many young people look up to them.
With all of the highly publicized scandals surrounding athletes lately, it makes one wonder – where have all the heroes gone?
Young people look up to athletes for reasons ranging from their athletic abilities to their wealth and success. They are influenced by their heroes’ performances and behavior – both good and bad.
“Athletes are highly visible, seem wealthy, and their success often comes while they are still young, which is more relatable to younger people,” said Beth Hentges, associate professor of psychology.
A handful of star athletes have been imprisoned; others have admitted to using drugs. While doing the right thing and being a good person may not be a part of the job description, athletes are still role models to their young fans and their behavior influences them one way or another. The array of recent athletes’ misconduct brings their ability to serve as role models into question.
“Kids are very impressionable,” said daycare teacher Taylor Loria. “I do not think very many athletes make good role models for them because they are always making headlines about doing drugs and being violent. I hope that none of them grow up thinking that sort of thing is acceptable.”
Thirteen out of 21, 11-12 year-olds in Loria’s class said they look up to an athlete.
To young fans, the positive accomplishments of their heroes may outweigh the bad publicity. When star athletes cheat by doping or gambling, it can instill the idea in children that it is okay to cheat in order to advance. In reality, taking shortcuts in life does not get you anywhere – just ask Lance Armstrong or Michael Vick.
Star cyclist Armstrong battled doping allegations for 13 years, finally admitting to his mistakes last month. He has been stripped of seven Tour de France titles and is banned from future competitions. Even when the truth is revealed, kids do not always know what to think about it.
“I like Lance Armstrong,” said Derek, 11. “He won a lot of races even though he had cancer. I think they made a mistake saying he cheated. They shouldn’t take anything away from him.”
Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Michael Vick served jail time for operating an illegal dog-fighting venture in 2007. Even though Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison, he is playing football again and has a supportive fan base.
Although it is sometimes hard to spot true athletic heroes through the infamy, there are still professional athletes setting good examples.
Houston Texan’s defensive end J.J. Watt recently reached out to a young fan, heartbroken about not being old enough to marry her hero. Fellow teammate and wide receiver Andre Johnson gives back to at-risk youth in Houston every year by making sure they have Christmas presents. Numerous professional athletes have founded charitable foundations and nonprofit organizations to give back to their communities.
“Just like with anything, we cannot let the misdeeds of a few athletes discredit every athlete out there,” said Sayed Hasan, healthcare administration major at UHCL.
Graphic created by Shawn Domingues: The Signal.
Good role models should possess qualities that encourage young people to be their best, strive for success and positively contribute to the community.
There are a lot of everyday heroes being overlooked in this age of celebrity worship.
As an OB/GYN, Dr. Jessica Ohlemacher has been recognized as a Texas Super Doctor Rising Star in 2012 for providing top-notch care to women of all ages in her community and beyond.
“Important qualities in a role model are integrity and humility,” Ohlemacher said. “They do the right thing even if it is harder.”
Jackson Hyams believes that a role model is someone who is very successful, healthy and athletic. They should have strong morals and be good leaders.
“You can’t like a person who does not treat others very nicely,” said Jackson Hyams, 13.
Role models can be found in other members of the community beyond star athletes.
“My first role model was my drill team director,” Ohlemacher said. “I thought she was an amazing dancer, leader, mother and friend. Now, in my profession as an OB/GYN, I believe that I have an audience of young women who view me as a leader or helper. I have the ability to demonstrate hard work, perseverance and integrity to my patients. I try to keep this in mind as I do my job, but mostly I try to be my best everyday for patients.”
Often, young people look up to the people closest to them, such as their parents.
“My biggest role model is my dad because he has a good job, he helps others and he loves sports like me,” Jackson Hyams said.
“I always try to set a good example for my children,” said Mark Hyams, Jackson’s father. “I want them to grow up to be successful, happy and have good values, so being a good role model has always been important to me.”
Broadcast reporting by Reggie Butler: The Signal. Video shot and edited by Lauren Lowry: The Signal.