As a Baltimore Ravens fan, I am accustomed to the criticism leveled at Ray Lewis.
His criminal past and six children out of wedlock provide more than enough ammo for use by Ravens haters. But the immediate question that comes to my mind when his off-the-field issues are brought up is: “So what?”
It baffles me that, as an American society, we continue to regard athletes as role models, or at least hold them to a higher standard. Time and time again, sports fans have been let down by their favorite athletes.
Performance-enhancing drugs have existed in baseball since the earliest days of the sport, from actual testosterone to amphetamines after World War II.
The Mitchell Report brought the drama to a head, revealing the doping practices of baseball greats such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. In what seems like a referendum by sports writers on steroid use, both players failed to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year.
More recently, the reputations of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have been destroyed. It was revealed that Tiger Woods had had affairs with many women while married. The media attention got to his head and forced him to take a break from the sport, and when he returned, he was not the same dominant golfer.
And late last year, Lance Armstrong, the founder of the LIVESTRONG Foundation, succumbed to the media’s accusations that he had doped for years.
Despite this, we still demand our athletes be role models for kids, as if moral guidance is in their job description.
First and foremost, professional athletes are entertainers, hired for their talent and ability to attract crowds to sporting events. When such importance is placed on athletic perfection, and drugs exist to artificially enhance athletes, what do we expect but to see them doping? Integrity only carries you so far in sports.
Even coaches are prone to cheating. Take, for example, Bill Belichick, the famed New England Patriots head coach. While still regarded as a football genius and a beacon of discipline, many fans felt disappointment after the 2007 “Spygate” scandal, when the Patriots were seen recording defensive signals during a live game.
Or take Pete Rose, a celebrated player and manager who was banned from the sport of baseball after accusations of gambling on his team.
Another major problem arises when we consider the personal lives of athletes — what they do off the field.
Temptations normal people face, like infidelity and debauchery, are amplified in the lives of the rich and famous.
In the case of male athletes, some women feel attracted to power and wealth, and athletes find it difficult to turn these pleasures down; Ray Lewis provides a good example of this point.
Perhaps the reason athletes are expected to become role models is the age we live in, when parents increasingly rely on society to raise their children. Entertainment figures are left with the responsibility of teaching moral lessons to our youth.
Let’s leave sports to athletes. If they fail morally, so be it. They don’t get paid to be paradigms of morality; they get paid to beat opponents. Let’s keep it that way.