Matt Brennan doesn’t think that Charles Barkley or any other celebrity should be raising your kids.
“Just because I can dunk a basketball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
Charles Barkley said these words in a 1993 Nike Air commercial when he famously declared he is not a role model. Though he didn’t play for the team I loved, the commercial came out at the high point of NBA basketball in my life. The Chicago Bulls were ramping up to win six championships in the ’90s. I was in junior high at the time, and given my obsession with basketball, I failed to understand the commercial’s message.
How could one of the NBA’s premiere talents tell his fans that he’s not a role model? Didn’t he sign up to be a role model the minute he stepped onto the basketball court?
The man could easily put up 30 points in a game, and if I wanted to look up to him, that seemed like my business. After all, this guy made it big. He beat the odds. He must be a pretty decent guy, right?
Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t.
Fast-forward 20 years from the airing of that commercial. I now have an 8 month old son and I understand that the raw talents of a professional athlete have no bearing on what type of human being they are.
The abilities to shoot a ball into a hoop, rush for a hundred yards, or hit a baseball are not immediately tied to going to church on Sundays, or giving to the poor. Simply put, these raw athletic abilities do not make you a good guy, no matter how hard you worked at your skill set, or how many people watch you play. As adults it seems like a relatively easy concept, but it’s one we struggle with in youth.
There are hoards of professional athletes who prove that you can be both excellent at your job, and complete scum. Unfortunately, it’s this group that usually makes the news. The athletes that have worthy foundations, or do truly cool things for their fans are usually drowned out by the truly stupid. Unfortunately, it’s the way the world works.
My son has a few years before he can become interested in sports, music, movies or any other form of celebrity-producing entertainment. I want to create an environment for him where he can have the confidence to believe he can do anything when he grows up.
The first step in creating that type of environment is for him to understand that these successful celebrities are human, too. Anything can be accomplished when you put your mind to it, and they are living proof. That message is a lot harder to convey if you buy the media hogwash that these people are somehow something more than human.
They don’t need to be put on that pedestal that’s so tempting to place them on. I’ve had some exposure talking with professional athletes through my newspaper days. Some were absolutely wonderful to speak with, and some were real jerks. But you know what? They’re all people.
When you think about it, understanding that they can be real jerks is freeing. One of the best life skill sets I learned as a newspaper reporter is objectivity. We live near Chicago and spend our Sundays watching Bears football. Anytime I mention the name Jay Cutler in my house, my wife Meg can’t let the sentence go without adding “He’s a prick.”
Here’s the thing: prick or not, he’s definitely the best Bears quarterback over the last several decades. He’s mobile, he’s smart, and he’s got the ability thread the ball into tight spaces. He’s also known to give some fairly snide press conference answers, and he’s got the world’s worst body language when things go wrong, and that’s what Meg sees.
Here are a few more noted examples for you: Dennis Rodman is one of the best rebounders in NBA history. Mike Tyson is one of the best boxers the world has ever known. They are two of the more despicable personalities out there, but so what? We’re watching them for a few hours of entertainment, and thankfully not spending time in a closed room.
If you want to take this outside the world of sports, I find Woody Allen to be an incredibly funny actor and director. Michael Jackson wasn’t my thing musically, but I can’t deny he had talent. Two more people you wouldn’t invite over for Sunday dinner (if Jackson were alive).
I don’t want my entertainment filtered down to only the people who meet my moral standards, and I don’t think my son’s entertainment should be filtered that way, either. Obviously I’ll filter out what’s not age-appropriate, but I’ll base it on the game, music, or movie, and not the people behind it.
I want my son exposed to as many Led Zeppelin albums as possible when he’s older. Jimmy Page is one of rock’s best guitarists. All that at the same time, he had a reputation for being a Satanist, and the whole band was known for their sex and drugs escapades while on tour.
It’s up to us as parents to expose our children to culture. It’s also up to us, and not the entertainers, to instill values.
To any child or young teen, these celebrities live the perfect life. But really they’re not gods to be idolized. They are just an example of what’s possible with some hard work.