I love sports. I used to play baseball, football and basketball. I still jog a few miles a week. I also love watching sports. Someone who loves watching sports usually finds themselves tuning into ESPN at least once a day to view the highlights of what has happened over the last twenty-four hours. A few days ago as I was watching ESPN, I experienced a wave of emotions and thoughts that all came together and I realized how deluded we are in what we consider a “role model.” This epiphany happened when I was watching younger girls who were interviewed about their hero, Danica Patrick. These young girls wanted to be just like her. Something about these interviews just didn’t sit well with me because of how she presents herself.
For those of you who might not know who Danica Patrick is, she is a thirty-one year old who is an auto racing star. I do not want to take what she has done on the race track away from her. I love it when women are not too “girly” for sports. My wife is extremely athletic and she is willing to bait a hook. I have three daughters and I want them to have all the opportunities that athletics provide. In other words, I think it is great that Danica is racing NASCAR. But what bothers me is how she has made herself famous. It appears that even though she is a good race car driver, she has become famous for dressing up in bikinis and presenting herself in a way that demeans women. I have sat through many Super bowls with my friends and I just cringe inside as one of her inappropriate commercials come on (hoping that my daughters are not in the room watching). I know that millions of people love seeing this on television. Men are visually attracted to how Danica presents herself. But I am not just a man, I am a dad! I have three daughters and when I was watching the young girls being interviewed on ESPN about how they looked up to Danica and wanted to be just like her, I didn’t hear any of them say that they wanted to do commercials with ninety percent of their bodies showing.
Let’s be honest here. Why is she famous? Is it because of her ability as a race car driver or is it because of her exploitation of her own body? You might say, “Both.” But is that what our society has become? Become famous right now. Do whatever you need to do in order to gather fame and fortune. This is not what I want to teach my three daughters.
Over a decade ago, when Barry Bonds was being accused of taking steroids and people were having a hard time with him breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, I told a few of my friends, “Don’t worry about Bonds, Alex Rodriquez will someday pass Bonds and might even get to 800 home runs. And then we can say that someone who was clean [no steroid use] broke the record.” I was wrong. We all were deceived into thinking that this good-looking, athletic baseball player was “doing it the right way.”
For almost a decade now it appears that Rodriquez has been lying about using steroids. This really makes me sad because when I was growing up these guys were my role models. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, athletes were my role models. I wanted to be just like them. I sincerely thought that Charles Barkley was wrong when he stated: “I am not a role model.” He is a role model. Just not necessarily a good one.
Alex Rodriquez stated the other day, “I want to be a role model.” He wants to be a role model to his daughters and to the world. The key word here is “want.” Just because we want something doesn’t mean that we will get it. Rodriquez has gotten everything he has ever wanted: athletic talent, fortune, fame, women, everything. Until now. Just because he “wants” to be a good role model does not mean that he will be one. He has cheated for too long. His baseball numbers mean nothing anymore. He has lied for too long. How can anyone trust this guy?
I have gotten to the point in my life where athletes are no longer role models to me. I no longer look up to singers and actors as people I want to be like when I get older. I still love watching sports, listening to great music and watching a well done movie, but I don’t aspire to be like these people anymore. I aspire to be myself, just how God made me with my own talents and gifts. We should all get to that point eventually in our life. The problem arises when our children are still going through the process of believing in people they shouldn’t believe in.
Years ago, before the advent of social media and non-stop coverage of humanity, our heroes could be unpleasant, dishonest, horrible fathers and we would never know it. We still looked up to them because the only thing we knew about them was that they could hit the ball out of the ball park or sing a ballad that would bring you to tears.
But now that I have children, I don’t want them following someone who does not have the same values that I want to teach them. I want them to learn honesty and purity and authenticity from those who are older than them. So, what is a parent to do? Should I not let my daughters “like” Danica because she doesn’t hold the same values I want for them? I want my daughters to grow up with discernment so that they can decide who is worth following on twitter.
No matter what, our children will follow someone. That is why it is so important to instill within your daughters and sons certain values that you hold high and let them know that the true role models in life are all around them in flesh and blood. They are real. They are your teachers to stretch your knowledge to new heights. They are your coaches who give you the courage to accomplish things you never thought possible. They are an uncle or aunt who has some free time to invest into your life. They are your pastors who help your soul connect with God.
And role models are parents. I was watching a movie the other night with my wife and there was a line that stuck in my mind as truth. It was a story about a daughter and her dad who was mentally ill. She said that children want to believe in their parents. And even when they know that they shouldn’t, they still want to believe. Parents, this is the power you hold over your child. He or she wants to believe in you. Live your life in such a way that you are worth emulating. Even when they go through those awkward years and act like you don’t know anything, they still believe in you. Know the power you have as a parent and use it to shape your child. Teach them to not rely on “fake” role models. Help them realize that they are surrounded by the real thing. And there is nothing better than that!