Live up to responsibility

The Baltimore Sun

Should professional athletes be role models for kids?

Why is there even a question?

Whether we want them to be or not, they are.

And whether they want to be or not, they are.

When I was growing up, I wanted to play tennis like Billie Jean King.

My stepson, Jordan (Jordy to his friends), is named for Michael Jordan and wants to play basketball like the late NBA Hall of Famer "Pistol" Pete Maravich or Dirk Nowitzki, currently of the Dallas Mavericks..

Professional athletes have everything kids want: skill, talent, popularity and money.

They have what parents want, too: the respect of their kids.

The least the pro can do is attempt to be worthy.

From the moment the pro signs a contract to play professionally and to put his name on merchandise, hoping kids (of all ages) will buy, he or she should know that part of the price to be paid for that lucrative shoe, jersey, bobblehead, T-shirt, autographed poster and collectible card contract is the responsibility to be an upright, admirable citizen.

Professional leagues get it. That's why they have a clause to protect the sport from "behavior or actions detrimental to the sport."

I've interviewed athletes, the NBA's Charles Barkley among them, who make a point of saying, "I'm not a role model."

And I've interviewed others, such as two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and tennis superstar Roger Federer, who embrace the role and consider it a privilege to be a positive influence on the lives of children.

But like it or not, being a role model goes with the territory.

If an athlete wants to make a living in a public arena and earn much of his income from the money being spent by kids and their parents, then the athlete can at least have the grace to try to be of good character, friendly and thoughtful of the young people he influences.

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