In just the past few months, numerous world-renowned athletes and (former) role models were revealed to have acted in ways that would be considered disgusting by our society’s standards. Many of these individuals are professional football players, the most famous of which are Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, two elite NFL running backs, both accused of domestic violence crimes.
According to CNN.com, there have been over 80 domestic violence arrests of NFL players since 2000 (of the 713 NFL arrests since the the turn of the century). This behavior is frightening considering the part that professional athletes traditionally play in American culture: role model. Is this an appropriate standard to hold for these athletes? Should many of these individuals be the people whom our society’s children aspire to be like? Regardless of your answer to these questions, it is unlikely that our young people will suddenly stop looking up to professional athletes, though some may be great role models, like the recently-retired Yankees’ legend Derek Jeter.
Perhaps it is not reasonable for us to hold ourfamous and celebrated athletes to the highest standard. One argument against the idea of “athletes as role models” may be implicit in Louis Menand’s three theories about college education expressed in his article “Live and Learn.” The first of these three theories states that college is essentially a sorting process. That the excellent (and therefore more admirable) individuals will be sorted from the weaker, less excellent individuals. Not to say that I agree completely with this view of a college education, but if this is at all the case, do professional athletes even apply to this theory?
Almost all NFL players at some point attended a college or university. However, unlike the rest of society, the reason for their attendance is not always to obtain a quality education that will assist them both in their career and in their life in general. The NFL requires that players be at least 21 years of age or that players complete three years of college. Therefore, any player who wants a chance to play in the NFL will seek admission into a college (if the colleges haven’t already sought them first). Frequently, these athletes are admitted to schools that they would otherwise have little chance to attend, simply because they are excellent football players. Not to say that these admissions should never happen, but due to this system, college football players often live in what can be seen as an alternative universe beginning from the moment their talent is identified as sufficient to play at the highest level. As a result, the college sorting process that exists according to Menand’s theory does not apply to these athletes. Living in this alternative universe may frequently play a role in shaping future NFL stars’ personalities and behavior. Due to the fact that their college experience (a period of time crucial in shaping the minds of young people) is often so different from the rest of society’s, many of these NFL players emerge with a view of the world that differs from the one the majority of the population forms in their college years.
Whether or not this system is flawed, it is reasonable to consider that the very different “growing up” experience many football stars have could be associated with their behavior down the road, and even, in rare cases, their violent actions.