I Am Not A Role Model
Believe it or not, it was 1993 when Charles Barkley uttered those infamous words, “I am not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Ironically, this defining quote was part of his Nike commercial, an ad selling shoes to young people who really didn’t need them at prices they really couldn’t afford. Fair enough, Charles: I don’t want your belligerent, slovenly, hot-tempered, misogynistic, alcoholic ass raising my kids. I’d rather let the late Michael Jackson take them out for ice cream and a last minute trip to Disneyworld than let you have any influence over who they eventually become. But just because you say you are not a role model doesn’t mean you aren’t one. I just wish you could have proven yourself to have lived up to that status as much as Peyton Manning did as he retired from the NFL earlier this week.
On the one hand, Chuck is right. The ability to dunk a basketball (a feat I highly doubt his corpulent mass could still manage) should should hardly be the litmus test for holding someone up as a shining beacon of virtue for young, impressionable minds. Being an athlete does not come with the job description of being a moral human being. Athletes should be allowed to be athletes simply by virtue of their athletic ability, just as accountants should secure their job placement through their computation skills, lawyers through their ability to argue their way out of a paper bag, and plumbers for their uncanny knack for showing off their ass crack. None of these jobs implicitly suggest the need for being a role model to youth, and people should be allowed to perform those duties regardless of the nature of their depraved personal lives.
Where the Round Mound of Rebound missed the point , though, was that his career was not just about being a basketball player. He was also a spokesman, and here is the element that changes the whole proposition. When you get paid to advertise a product, especially when you are specifically marketing towards young people, now you are getting paid to be a role model. Nike didn’t pay Charles Barkley millions of dollars to sell shoes because he was charming and likable. This asshole once spit on a woman who insulted him at a basketball game and defenestrated (my former students can all tell you that defenestration is the act of throwing someone through a closed glass window- please don’t ask me why they all know this!) a much smaller man in a Houston nightclub because the guy spilled ice on him. No, Nike hired him as a spokesman because kids looked up to him and they knew that if Charles put his name on their sneakers, kids would buy them. Shit, no one is asking me to do commercials for sneakers. You know why? Because while I may be a role model to the kids I taught (albeit a dubious one at that), on a global level, I do not have the same clout Barkley does. No self-respecting kid out there gives a flying fuck what kind of sneakers I wear. But they do care what Sir Charles wears. Why? Because whether he likes it or not, he is a role model.
And if you are going to profit off that status, you need to own the whole job description, you know the part that means you live a life where I can let my kids look up to you, not just the part where you get paid gobs of money because they do. Take the Tiger Woods fiasco years ago. Before his troubles began, Tiger was shelling everything from video games to expensive watches, and he raked in more cash from endorsements than he ever did from swinging a golf club. And for a long while, the relationship worked beautifully. Everyone thought Tiger was the clean-living, hard-working athlete they could show their kids as an example of who they could be when they grew up. Only problem was he was cheating on his wife with every piece of ass from Beijing to Corpus Christi. When she found out and beat him senseless with a tire iron, the whole world came to know that the image he had fabricated was a sham.
Now there were some out there who said that the PGA tour should suspend him from playing golf. On that point, I adamantly disagreed. His personal life should hold no bearing on his right to perform his job as a golfer because the role of a golfer is to win golf tournaments, not be a role model to our kids. But I didn’t pity him one bit when he lost a number of his endorsement deals because those were predicated on an image that he no longer lived up to.
Which brings us full circle to Peyton Manning. Now whether or not you believe that he sexually assaulted some athletic trainer at the University of Tennessee twenty years ago (and if you do, please check out how she has changed her story multiple times to get a settlement and has been the plaintiff in over 30 such cases), Peyton has clearly spent his entire professional life living up to the standard of being a positive role model for a generation of kids who look up to him. At the end of his farewell speech, Manning said, “When I look back on my NFL career, I’ll know without a doubt that I gave everything I had to help my teams walk away with a win. There were other players who were more talented but there was no one could out-prepare me and because of that I have no regrets.” Now those are the words of a man my kids can look up to. I think I’ll go buy them a jersey.
Folks, much thanks for all the support for my blog, TRUTH: IN 1000 WORDS OR LESS. Due to a recent illness and a planned family vacation, I will be taking a two week hiatus. Please look forward to reading my column when it comes back at the end of March!
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com