ALYSSA ROSENTHAL ’13
When we are little, we want to grow up to be celebrities. We see people on TV or hear about them in the news, and we want to have the lives they have, to star in our own sitcom or play for our favorite professional sports team. So naturally, we believe that to achieve our lofty goals we need to follow the same paths our idols took to get to where they are today, because if it worked for them it will surely work for us. This ideology seems to make perfect sense to me, but today’s celebrities, especially some athletes that have been in the limelight recently, seem to have forgotten their responsibilities as role models for the children and young adults who look up to them and want to be just like them one day. They think that their athletic successes will overshadow and maybe even justify the decisions they make in their lives off of the field or the racetrack, so that the kids who look up to them will forget the poor decisions they made along the way. But with all the publicity surrounding Ray Lewis in his final run at a Super Bowl and Lance Armstrong’s recent admission to doping, it is clear that professional athletes can’t hide the decisions they make in their personal lives, but they seem to think that these decisions are okay to make despite the fact that they are revered and looked up to by so many. However, these choices aren’t okay, and they will always exist as an asterisk on any competition won.
In this year’s NFL playoffs, hardly anyone expected the Ravens to make it to the Super Bowl. They were the underdogs going into the divisional and conference championships, but this was not the only storyline the press latched on to. Just before the playoffs started, linebacker Ray Lewis announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season after 17 years in the league. So each playoff victory has been more than just a win for the Ravens, it has been a chance for Ray Lewis to extend his NFL career for a few more weeks. Why does this matter? Lewis has played in 13 Pro Bowls, was Super Bowl MVP, has been named the Defensive Player of the Year five times, and is a member of the 2000s All-Decade Team. With such a successful career and so much attention from the media, it makes sense that young football players would want to grow up to be like Ray Lewis. However, Wes Welker’s wife Anna sees Lewis in a different light. After the Patriots’ loss to the Ravens, Anna wrote on her Facebook, “Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis’ Wikipedia page. 6 kids 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay. What a hall of fame player! A true role model!” She later apologized for her comments. Lewis does not have four wives, he has six children with four different women, but I think what she said makes sense. Why are we glorifying someone who gets into knife fights at parties? Better yet, why does Lewis think it is okay for him to make these decisions when he knows how many young fans look up to him? It’s true that his job is not to be the moral compass for America’s youth, but they will inevitably tie his decisions in his personal life to his successes or failures on the football field. It is impossible for Lewis not to know and understand this, so why does he think it is all right?
We all know Lance Armstrong as one of the greatest and most inspirational athletes of all time. Despite being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, Armstrong won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005. He also established the Livestrong Foundation, a nonprofit that has raised millions of dollars to support people with cancer. In other words, throughout much of his career Armstrong was the ultimate role model and the spokesman for overcoming adversity and achieving the unthinkable. But just weeks ago Armstrong admitted to doping throughout his career, confirming the decision made late last year by the US Anti-Doping Agency to take away his Tour de France titles. Armstrong’s missteps are slightly different than Lewis’s; he decided to use performance enhancers so he would win races, which he did. Thus, he wasn’t actually overcoming adversity in the sense we like to think throughout his career; he was doing whatever it took to win. Armstrong’s admission alters the message he has sent to loyal fans and followers from the ability to be successful despite any hardships they might face to the fact that winning is the most important outcome, and it is alright to do whatever is necessary to come out on top. It seems that Armstrong only wanted to win over and over again, and was not thinking about the consequences of the decisions he made along the way and the effects they would have on his fans and supporters. It is impossible for someone like Lance Armstrong to pretend that he didn’t think these consequences would occur, which is why I don’t understand why he made the decision to dope in the first place. A story published by CBS News says that before Armstrong’s tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey, “About 100 Livestrong staff members gathered in a conference room as Armstrong told them “I’m sorry.” He choked up during a 20-minute talk, expressing regret for the long-running controversy that the performance-enhancers had caused, but stopped short of admitting he used them.” If he is so full of regret, why did he do it in the first place? Why did he think it was a good decision to make?
Professional athletes become professional athletes to compete and win at the highest levels in their sports. But with talent and success comes visibility, and with visibility comes the assumption, or lack thereof, of responsibility as a role model for fans and supporters. I think professional athletes should be embracing this opportunity, or at least recognizing it enough that they aren’t purposely sending the message that decisions like those made by Ray Lewis and Lance Armstrong are okay.