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The sports pages sometimes read more like a crime sheet with reports of anti-social behavior, alcoholism, substance abuse, deceit, adultery, gambling and a lot more. Some of our most idolized sporting greats have been the greatest disappointments.  This all raises the question – should these athletes be considered role models, and do they have a responsibility to the public?

I can remember the first time my brother Nate and I debated this issue. It was after the Tiger Woods “incident”. If you live under a rock and don’t know what I’m referring to… let’s just say, it was not Woods winning one of his 14 Major Championships. Read his statement admitting to his adultery here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/11/tiger-woods-statement-adm_n_389457.html

As a sports physician I am always dealing with professional athletes, and when it comes to their anatomy – they’re just like everyone else. They bleed, break bones, cry and make mistakes – just like we all do. Why then do we insist on putting sports stars on a moral pedestal, only to be horrified when they inevitably come crashing down?

It’s simple really – we are confusing sporting greatness with greatness of character. Just because athletes possess incredible athletic talent, that doesn’t automatically make them “great people”. Athletes should be admired for their athletic achievements, but they should not serve as a moral compass for our society.

Former NBA superstar Charles Barkley agrees with me. He goes on to say, “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” He feels that it is parents who have the obligation and responsibility to be role models. We want heroes, we want someone to look up to – it makes life easier to comprehend if there are people to follow and guide us through. But idolizing athletes in this way does nothing but set us up for disappointment. I agree with Charles Barkley – we can’t look to sports field for moral guidance. If you want a good example for your kids to follow – be the good example!

Why is that sports stars so regularly disgrace themselves in the eyes of the press? I think that we, our society, have a lot to answer to for the way that certain professional athletes behave. We set them up for a fall.

We put these young stars on pedestals and inflate their sense importance, we then let them get away with a lot more than they ever would if they weren’t in the public eye – until they take it a step too far and we annihilate them in the press. These teenage men are earning millions without any guidance; money can be a corrupting influence at such an impressionable age.

Anyone in the public eye has a certain degree of responsibility for how their actions are perceived by the public, but ultimately the onus is on us to take away some of the pressure. Admire these guys on the sports field – but don’t expect anything after the final whistle goes.

“Don’t Confuse Game Statistics With Character”

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