On a role

An individual has many “roles” – only on stage is one completely defined by a particular “role”.

The idea that sports people are “role models” is a false premise being pushed onto society by the media.

It’s a good emotionally manipulative line to run – and no doubt it will sell papers. But the fallacy that Andrew Johns, and the unnamed AFL players from Hawthorn, have let society down because they are “role models” is wrong.

Aspiring sports stars may use them as archetypal sports models – ie I would love to be able to play football like Andrew Johns – and they could arguably be great models for drugtakers (a professional sports career seems to be one legal avenue for earning the money required to fund a recreational drug habit) but no one intelligent styles their life on these sportsmen.

Or at least, no one should.

It’s much more likely that people style themselves on elements of a number of influences – in particular parents. If people are looking to famous sportspeople for inspiration in every field (not just on the field) – then our society has a massive problem.

The NRL and AFL could easily let themselves off the PR hook when it comes to their player’s indiscretions by claiming no responsibility for their employee’s private lives. Some players may choose to act as role models through engaging in community activities and the like. But the umbrella bodies in each sport are perpetuating the problem by continuing to tout their stars as being allround good guys who everyone should aspire to.

Statistically speaking the chances of becoming a professional sportsperson are pretty slim – the number of children who genuinely have aspirations of becoming the next Andrew Johns will no doubt be disproportionate. But parents can not abdicate their basic responsibilities for the upbringing and character of their children to some pseudo nanny-state society where sports stars are surrogate parents. That’s bollocks.

The only reason that sports stars should be held accountable for their drug taking is the effect it must surely have on their ability to perform – and their long term health and wellbeing – which is the club’s responsibility.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

13 thoughts on “On a role”

  1. One comment before I read your blog:

    Gotta love that guy’s worst nightmare in PR from that article in the City Life Magazine…

  2. I absolutely agree parents have an essential role in establishing the parameters for their kids perception of right/wrong/success/failure.

    However, I don’t know that it is just the media that is pushing the “role model” barrow.

    Consider the value of public perception to these umbrella bodies of sport.

    When the sporting codes are tainted by drug taking (or violent/abusive/irresponsible) members, many parents get turned off the club/code, particularly if the code washes its hands of the matter.

    Maybe it’s just a bit, but the bits add up. Eventually the parents steer their kids into other sports. Get the kids into other sports, and when they’re adults, they’re going to be less interested.

    Thinking for long term interest and sustainability, the codes need to reinforce their brand by promoting players as role models. That they have failed spectacularly in notable cases is evident in NRL (Johns, Bulldogs a few years ago, Hopoate), AFL(Cousens, medical reports, etc) , ARU(Sailor, Tuqiri), cricket (Warne, Cronje, Ponting’s punch up early in his career) and I’m sure there are others.

    Responsibility for their conduct ultimately lies with the players.

    Even so, the codes have a vested interest in trying to promote and protect their brand.

  3. I just think they’d be better off promoting their brand on the basis of the strength of the actual product – and distancing themselves from the users.

    Car companies don’t claim responsibilities for the drivers of their vehicles who are involved in accidents.

    The governing bodies need to distance themselves from their star’s conduct. This means not claiming credit for the good ones – or the bad. I think the NRL tried to do that a bit with the “It’s my game” campaign. Give ownership back to the fans and move away from the overpaid, undereducated “superstars.”

  4. I totally agree that “parents can not abdicate their basic responsibilities for the upbringing and character of their children to some pseudo nanny-state society where sports stars are surrogate parents”. However, I do think sports stars have a certain responsibility as role models. Andrew Johns does know he’s a role model, he does know people (and kids) are watching him, and he does know drugs are bad.

    While kids these days are unlikely to take a drug just because their sports hero does (most kids are pretty well educated when it comes to drugs), and while ultimately it is the parents’ responsibility how their kids act, we can’t deny that stars do have a certain influence and are responsible for how they act, given the influence they do have.

  5. Leah, I’d disagree that it’s the parents’ responsibility how the kids act.

    Rather, it’s the parents’ responsibility to ensure their kids know the right way to act, and that there are serious consequences for not doing so. This may take different forms as the kids mature.

    The kids are still responsible for their own choices in action, attitude and behaviour.

  6. Nathan,

    The car companies still advertise the personal lifestyle benefits.

    With this car you can have this lifestyle/if you have this lifestyle you need this car.

    The upstanding “role models” represent the personal lifestyle benefit of the game to fans and young players.

    Can you expand on your “strength of product” argument? I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

  7. Leah,

    Having said the kids are responsible for their actions, parental responsibility to train kids is still important.

    I’d also say most parents will experience the “Could I have done more to avoid this” question? Hindsight can be a brutal instructor.

  8. I think the NRL should let the game talk for itself – it’s unique blend of physicality and athleticism – the big hits etc. They’re all present in every grade, every age group – I think the NRL should run an ad campaign using non-NRL matches and move away from promoting it’s stars as the attractions. It would keep them out of trouble in the event that one of them turns out to be a doped up party animal, a rapist or a common thug.

  9. “However, I do think sports stars have a certain responsibility as role models. Andrew Johns does know he’s a role model, he does know people (and kids) are watching him, and he does know drugs are bad.”

    I disagree – unless a player is contractually obliged to be a role model it’s a role society at large tries to asign – via the media. I think this is wrong. I don’t think the argument that just because people are watching he’s a role model holds water. I don’t think he’s a role model for anything other than his prowess on the field. I’d love to play football like Andrew Johns. I think Hitler was a great military tactician but that doesn’t make him my role model. He probably knew that killing Jews was frowned upon – just like Johns knew that taking drugs was bad – at the end of the day it’s a question of personal choice – you can’t remove John’s right to make personal choices just because he’s in the public eye.

    There is the question of the legality of drugs that comes into play at this point. But that’s an entirely different argument.

  10. I still think it comes back to what I was saying in the last post about the reason for which someone is in the public eye. Johns is there becuase he plays football, and people like to watch football. The media thrusts him into the public eye and declares him a “role model,” a role that he never intended to assume by simply being good at his craft. That same media crucifies him for not being a good enough role model when all he wanted to do was play football. It can be argued that media attention (in his outside life) comes with the teritory, but I don’t think it should.

  11. Nathan, I never said Andrew Johns is officially a role model. Society and the media has made him a role model. And he knows that. That’s all I was saying.

    Mark- in regards to parents’ responsibilty about how kids act, totally agree. That’s what I meant :P I was just saying it’s more the parents’ responsibility than sports stars’:P

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