Let’s keep pro athletes off the pedestalsMike Tyson bites off Evander Holyfield’s ear during a prize fight, while the NBA player Latrell Sprewell chokes his coach during a practice. Darryl Strawberry puts drugs in his nose like some folks do fingers. Was there any punishment? Sure, but a slap on the wrist at best. Tyson continues to box, winning his most recent bout this month while Sprewell is now a star for another team, the New York Knicks. Strawberry has been suspended from baseball. Big deal, he was already 37 when that happened and it followed innumerable cocaine busts.
The list of athletes living on the edge goes on. They are like weeds in the back yard. Whenever athletes screw up, the public lashes out at them for not being the role models that society wants them to be. But nothing ever really happens.
It’s true that nobody asked them to become role models. They became role models by default. It all comes with the territory. When you make a couple of million bucks a year and sell your own gear on the side with your name on it for another couple of million, people are going to recognize you when you walk down the street. You can't even sneeze without someone making mention of it.
Adding to the list of athletes who should know better is Jung Soo-keun, an outfielder for the Doosan Bears. Jung pleaded guilty Saturday for resisting arrest and harassing a police officer in Hawaii. While participating in the team’s spring training, the outfielder got involved in a brawl at a restaurant and struggled with the cops who came to break it up, leaving the officers no choice but to spray him with tear gas.
Eventually, Jung pleaded guilty and paid a $450 fine. There might have been a language problem, but the No. 1 rule when police arrive is: Stay still and raise your hands, just like everyone else. How hard is that? Jung issued a public apology. Standard procedure. End of the affair. He is already back in the lineup.
People like you and me, normal folks who are not pro sports stars, don't get away that easily. If I beat up my girlfriend with a bat, I am in big trouble. If a famous athlete does it, somebody is going to say, “What the heck was the girl doing there so late anyway? Is she on drugs?” And often that someone is high up the ladder and is calling the shots.
We all know that money is what swings favoritism here. Commissioners and owners like it that their players make the fans plunk down 40 bucks for team jackets for their youngsters while these fans like it that their players are wearing the hometown's colors.
Authorities and fans should raise the bar and hold professional athletes to much higher standards. Kids look up to them for various reasons and generally identify with them.
Charles Barkely, the former NBA basketball star whose behavior on and off the court made him famous, once said that athletes should not be role models -- parents should. You got that right, Sir Charles!
In an age when athletes get as much exposure or more than someone’s father who works late in a factory, there is no other way but to bring the athletes in line with the rest of society.
by Brian Lee