I grew up in an era where professional athletes were the popular role models of choice. Everyone in my neighborhood wanted to be just like Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Tom Seaver or Bart Starr.
These guys were squeaky clean superheroes and pillars of their communities. What parents wouldn’t want their children to turn out with the same attributes as these upstanding citizens?
Today, it seems as though there are only a handful of these so-called role models left. In fact, the only ones who come to mind at all are Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera — that statement came from a diehard Red Sox fan.
Many children these days gravitate towards punk rappers, Justin Bieber and whatever thug of an athlete has been arrested lately. These are the kind of people you wouldn’t even let into your house, never mind have your children emulate.
But the most alarming thing of all is the behavior — or the lack thereof — from many professional athletes over the past few decades. It raises the issue as to what kind of influence they have over our children.
We hit rock bottom the day they hauled Aaron Hernandez out of his house in handcuffs and charged him with murder. My heart goes out to his mother. I still remember the news clip and how proud she was of her son when he visited the school she works at and spoke to the young students after the Patriots made the Super Bowl.
Here was a local kid who made it to stardom and now was back inspiring the youth at his mother’s school. Hollywood couldn’t come up with a better script. Today we are trying to wrap our heads around just what went wrong and turned a role model into an alleged criminal.
But the signs of atrocity were there on the horizon for quite some time and no one wanted to believe that a golden era of role models was gone. NFL players connected with guns have been in the news before. Professional baseball players have been linked to drug use for far too long, as another story about an NBA player arrested for domestic violence hits the stands.
Professional athletes and the multimillion-dollar contracts corrupted whatever morals they had left and the situation seems irreversible. Parents shiver at the thought of having their children idolize rap stars, singing lyrics about drugs, violence against women and authority, along with a laundry list of subjects that are inappropriate.
So why would any parents encourage their children to emulate a professional athlete? I’m a parent and the grandfather of 12 precious little ones and I certainly would not want them looking up to today’s million-dollar athletes.
I believe children do need heroes in their life growing up. If they look up to anyone they should be looking up to their parents.
Secondly, they could learn an awful lot of wisdom from their grandparents who have already made every decision that these young people will face in life. Wisdom and experience is priceless.
The next time these youngsters go around looking for a hero, take them to the Naugatuck Police Department or the Naugatuck Fire Department. These men and women risk their lives every day to keep us all safe. If they are looking for a hero, let’s start there.
As a sportswriter and a lifelong sports fan, I’m just worn out with the A-Rods, the NFL players who have already served prison terms and the spoiled millionaires who file bankruptcy a few years after signing for more money than you and I will ever see.
The ugliness of the whole scenario has even infiltrated the political arena. We have a former New York governor who resigned for inappropriate behavior while using taxpayer dollars and ends up as a political analyst for CNN. We have a former legislator who resigned under charges of lewdness running for mayor of New York.
We as a society have lost our way (along with our minds) if we accept this kind of behavior. The only way to reverse this trend is to give our children role models to whom they can look — preferably one who is not wearing a uniform with a number on the back.
Ken Morse is a contributing writer to the Citizen’s News.