Many individuals look up to celebrities—especially professional athletes—as role models. They’re portrayed in the media as gods amongst regular humans—beacons of human athletic achievement. This is a ridiculous thing to do. Moreover, it’s not healthy. In a 1993 Nike commercial, National Basketball Association Hall of Famer Charles Barkley brought this issue to light. “I am not a role model,” he said. Barkley’s point is still relevant today. “Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids,” he added.
The prime example of a premier athlete who is a terrible role model is boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather—or “Money”—is one of the greatest boxers of all time. With his fight against Manny Pacquiao on Saturday May 2, ESPN is airing package after package of “all-access” material. One of these was an “MTV Cribs” style shoot inside Mayweather’s house. To call his house extravagant would be an understatement.
“My mentality is always about working smarter, not harder,” Mayweather told ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith. Smith was clearly floored with admiration during the segment. Needless to say, ESPN further glamorized Mayweather’s already overly glamorous lifestyle. This becomes more problematic when we look at Mayweather’s past. He was convicted of domestic abuse and served 87 days in jail in 2012. Mayweather was even denied entry into Australia in February 2015 based on his criminal record.
When Cari Champion called Smith out for his treatment of Mayweather on ESPN2’s “First Take,” Smith responded, “You’re a woman—you should feel that way … I am a boxing fan.” Smith’s misogynistic comments aside, ESPN is sending the wrong message by glorifying athletes like Mayweather.
This problem exists across all sports with both male and female athletes. Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner and her fiancée—fellow Women’s National Basketball Association player Tulsa Shock forward Glory Johnson—were arrested on April 22 for assault and disorderly conduct at a nightclub. She pled guilty and her charges will be dismissed as long as she completes 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling.
This is not to say professional athletes can’t be role models. Pacquiao is a prime example of a role model—especially in his home country of the Philippines. Not only is he a premier boxer, but he’s also a member of the Filipino Parliament. According to his promoter Bob Arum, a large portion of Pacquiao’s earnings from his upcoming fight will go to Filipino charities.
Another example is Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw and his wife went to Zambia—a country where most people have never seen a baseball game—to open an orphanage. His charity supports the orphans living there, many of whom are suffering from HIV and AIDS. For his efforts, he was awarded the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award, which “recognizes a Major League Baseball player who best represents the game through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.”
Pacquiao and Kershaw are not role models because of their accomplishments in their individual sports; they are role models because they are great human beings. Their athletic accomplishments are simply a platform for the world to see their international contributions.
Role models should be good citizens of the world. It’s unfortunate that not all professional athletes—or people for that matter—fit this description, but that is the reality.
We need to look up to the do-gooders in society, not those who are simply good at dunking a basketball.