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Athletes show commendable character

Feb. 22, 2001

Former basketball player Charles Barkley once said, 'Professional athletes should not be role models. Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids.'

The fact of the matter, however, is that he or any other athlete -- professional, college or high school -- does not have a choice in being a role model. Furthermore, I am glad that we have athletes at Baylor who are a positive influence on the kids in Waco.

I have worked with Baylor's Cub Club for the last three years and have recruited young kids into the program. Some of those may never have had the opportunity to attend Baylor athletic events otherwise. The athletic staff and players have been nothing but positive.

Bobby Bowden, a keynote speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet a few years ago, said, 'Some say, 'Should athletes be role models?' The heck you're not,' Bowden said. 'If you're in the public eye, you're a role model. You're either going to be a good one or you're going to be a bad one.'

'Many athletes on all levels don't realize how important they are to those who are watching,' said Bob Still, a public relations manager of the National Association of Sports Officials, in an article in the NCAA News. 'Professional athletes have a strong impression on college and high school athletes. And college and high school students have a strong impression on kids playing at the lower level. We need to make sure those athletes understand little eyes are watching.'

I agree wholeheartedly.

Many of the young kids in Baylor's Cub Club have their favorite players. Some can recite statistics of their favorite Baylor players in the varied sports they choose to follow. These are savvy fans. But these are also young, impressionable fans.

73 percent of kids in a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation said that, of all the adults they look up to or want to be like, their favorite athletes ranked second only to their parents.

What messages are being sent by athletes the kids try to emulate? On any given day, athletes make the news, often in a way that is not a negative way.

Athletes are being arrested for homicide, domestic violence, drugs --you name it. The media has a responsibility to report the news, but sometimes they perpetuate the problem by repeatedly running stories about the transgressions on the news or sports highlight shows. There are probably hundreds of athletes and parents doing positive things in communities. But controversy and the outrageous make good news.

'With all the money that's involved in intercollegiate athletics, it's like the gloves are off,' Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Terrance Moore said.

Lack of sportsmanship is often tolerated, especially at the college and professional levels. Big money and exposure make athletic team staff members turn a blind eye to an athlete's negative actions, fearing that, without the athletes, the team won't be able to win games -- which might cause the team to lose sponsorships or, for that matter, team staff's jobs.

Speaking of poor sportsmanship: In an article written by a NCAA News staff writer, the former commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference said, 'It's hard to put your finger on it. But big money inevitably leads to bigger excesses in other things. And people are watching; kids are watching.'

I personally know kids are watching Baylor athletes. I usually bring a van load of kids with me to the athletic events that Baylor hosts.

Baylor either does a good job prepping its athletes for the public eye, or Baylor's athletes just have character -- the kind that's wholesome and needs to be perpetuated.

No matter what the athletic events, Baylor's athletes have never stopped taking the time to recognize or give autographs to Cub Club members, even in the great victories when the fields or courts are packed with frenzied reporters.

For example, when Kyle Evans pitched his no-hitter last year and the media swamped him, he still took time to take pictures with some of the youngsters and sign autographs. Also, recently when Baylor upset No. 6 University of Kansas in basketball with more than 9,000 screaming fans, the players took time out for the kids.

Also, I see a change in the football team. Not too far in the distant past, Baylor players routinely made headlines for antics off the field. To put it lightly, it was not in good circumstances. Under the Kevin Steele era, however, bad behavior is a thing of the past.

When I attend athletic events, I think about how athletes have influenced my life and how they are influencing the young eyes in the audience. I just pray that it will all be positive.

On a final note, one thing that has struck me is that too many Baylor fans are overly concerned with the great American pastime --winning. But as someone has said, 'Winning is over-emphasized. The only time it is really important is in surgery and in war.'