By SAM KRENZER
One of the most inspiring stories to come out of the Olympics in recent memory was that of Oscar Pistorius, Pistorius a South-African double amputee, completed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London in the 400-meter track event. Although he did not make the final, his bib number did. A competitor was so moved by his efforts that he exchanged bibs with Pistorius so that his number might appear in the final.
On Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend in their shared South African home.
Another athlete, Aaron Hernandez was a star tight end for the New England Patriots. Heralded as one of the best tight ends of the current generation, he was a hero for many young fans.
Early this past summer, Hernandez was charged for first degree murder of amateur football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez is also currently being questioned in regards to his involvement in a Florida lawsuit.
Pistorius and Hernandez are two extreme examples of professional athletes committing criminal acts during the height of their fame. In recent years, other high profile athletes once revered for their perseverance and skill committed acts which diminished their standing in the court of public opinion.
No one knew nor cared much about cycling before Lance Armstrong became a worldwide phenomenon. Not only was he able to conquer the rough terrain of the Tour de France, but he did so as a cancer survivor.
His “Livestrong” charity became a household name. When I was in middle school, everyone had to have a yellow Livestrong bracelet; it was the most popular fashion accessory. I still wear the bracelet my sister got me for Christmas more than five years go. This proves the lasting impression and influence athletes have on their fans.
Alex Rodriguez was traded from the Texas Rangers to the New York Yankees in 2004. He, alongside longtime Yankees player Derek Jeter, essentially became the faces of a franchise looking to once again climb to the top of the baseball world. Since 2004 the Yankees have won one World Series; the Boston Red Sox, who were the runners-up in the battle to sign Rodriguez, won three World Series since 2004.
Within the past year Rodriguez has faced sanctions from the MLB regarding his use of banned substances. According to CNN.com, Rodriguez was suspended in August for 211 games through a portion of the 2014 season. Rodriguez since appealed this sentence and was allowed to play until a final judgment was issued. Although he continued to play, his appearances even in his team’s home stadium in the Bronx, New York was met with boos.
Accountability remains the biggest concern when addressing the issue of athletes who break the law. On July 26, 2013 Business Insider ran a story on its website which listed all the NFL players who were arrested since the 2013 Super Bowl in February. Charges against the 27 players named, ranged from driving under the influence to resisting arrest.
Three players were arrested more than once, and one was arrested twice in one day. Two players, Rolando McClain of the Baltimore Ravens and Al Netter of the San Francisco 49ers played in the most recent Super Bowl. Not every professional athlete gets in trouble with the law or the league that they play for, although, it seems that the proportion of those who do is increasing.
Those athletes mentioned and others like them demonstrated through their actions that they think of themselves as above the rules; that their social standing and wealth endows them with the ability to act however they choose. Such thinking is not only false, but it demonstrates a lack of respect for the fans who support them.
Many athletes act as if their talents are gifts the public are privileged to enjoy. However, it is the fan which allows the athlete to showcase his or her talents; it is the fan who allows the athlete to gain the monetary rewards of a successful career.
The question of how to punish athletes who possess the money and connections to work the system in their favors is often debated. Technicalities seem to play a larger role in holding athletes responsible for their actions than does the actual evidence for or against them.
Placing blame on persons other than themselves is now a common defense. As recently as October, Alex Rodriguez claimed he believed the drugs he received from a clinic were allowed under MLB guidelines and that it was the fault of the clinic that he ended up testing positive for banned substances.
Professional athletes need to be taught that before they are professional athletes, they are human beings, fathers, brothers and heroes for millions of fans.
Therefore, being a morally sound role model is more important than scoring that winning point or gaining even a fraction of an edge over an opponent.