Professional sports leagues today spend more time, money, and effort than ever before trying to control the actions of players off the field. Whether it’s domestic violence, drug usage, gun control, or any other number of things athletes get in trouble for, there seems to be more problems than ever before. Why have the times changed so much in recent years? Granted, players have always gotten in trouble for as long as sports have been organized, but I don’t think we have ever seen the regularity of problems quite like we are seeing today.
For as long as anyone can remember sports stars have been looked upon as heroes to society — in fact, we regularly refer to them as “role models.” Today, however, we may need to revisit this assumption. In fact, perhaps Charles Barkley had it right 20 years ago when he adamantly stated “athletes are not role models,” although I don’t think even he had the wherewithal to foresee the number of athletes in 2014 who pay no regard to their expected role model status.
There are many sport sociology questions that loom today pertaining to social responsibility and elite-level athletes:
- Should we still assume they are role models? Are some of these athletes capable of carrying that title, or did they sell out long ago and put everything to athletics at the expense of living a safe, legal, and clean life?
- Are more players regularly getting in trouble these days – and what, if anything, can be done to prevent these problem from occurring ?
- What role does social media play into these problems, and can anything be done to limit the negative impact of social media?
- Does leadership really matter to pro and college sports today? As Barkley said, “he is paid to make baskets, not raise your kids.” Will pro and college sports eventually concede that the only thing that matter is play on the field and that role modeling is no longer a factor?
The NFL, and particularly Commissioner Roger Goodell, are facing harsh criticism over the way they have handled the Ray Rice story, prompting some to think this could be a “tipping point” in sports where greater efforts to encourage and uphold social responsibility comes to the forefront. Unfortunately, “doing the right thing” (pertaining to how the NFL handled Rice) didn’t quite happen, but if advertisers begin to pull out major changes could be ahead.
Hopefully increasingly more legitimate resources (not window dressing) will soon be implemented that will better prepare athletes as they enter college sports and carry through with the few who go on to play professionally. Perhaps annual continuing education should be considered, prompting players to complete coursework similar to how the vast majority of other non-sport occupations require. What the future holds is up in the air today, but the trend of bad behavior is well in place and savvy stakeholders know things are not likely to “right themselves” short of a major paradigm shift regarding elite-level athletes and social responsibility.