WHEELING - Pro Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley famously once said that neither he nor any other athlete gets paid to be a role model.
Barkley, you see, said a lot in his day and actually still does as an NBA analyst for TNT. Charles spoke his mind so often it eventually began to be shrugged off as nothing more than the 'Round Mound of Rebound' blowing off a gigantic stack of smoke.
But 20 years later I am reminded yet again how true those words were and continue to be.
All the statistics are readily available and have been recited and typed ad nauseum: Roughly 1 percent of high school athletes will continue their careers in college, and even less will make it to the professional level. But who could have imagined we'd need to break those same athletes down into a 'how many are likely to commit violent crimes' category?
Thirty-one NFL players have been arrested just since the Super Bowl. One (Aaron Hernandez) is facing homicide charges. Another, Cleveland Browns rookie Ausar Walcott, has been charged with attempted murder. Dallas nose tackle Josh Brent was reportedly intoxicated behind the wheel of a vehicle that was traveling in excess of 110 mph and wrecked, killing friend and teammate Jerry Brown Jr. Remarkably, two failed drug tests later, Brent is still free on bond.
Heck, just the other day former Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, who now plays for the N.Y. Giants and apparently has as clean a record as they come, was detained at a Philadelphia airport when a switchblade knife was found in his luggage.
And this is only one of the four major sports being dissected.
The point is, there are a few things we need to point out to our kids about athletes.
First, don't look to them as role models under any circumstance. Not because they may let you down, but for the simple fact that having a lot of money - this goes for actors or any other high-earning job - doesn't automatically make a person someone you should emulate. In some cases, actually, the opposite is true.
Secondly, just because a person is famous doesn't mean they are different, or better than we are. Admittedly that's a lot easier to understand in this line of work because it affords an opportunity to see athletes in a different light than the general public is privy to. Most assuredly though, athletes are just like you and me. They put their pants on one leg at a time, bleed red and believe it or not, have some of the same every day problems as we do.
Don't turn children off from athletes all together, though. But make sure they know what part of the equation is OK to look up to. It's not the skill, the money or even the looks.
Many athletes are extremely involved with things like charities and childrens advocate groups off the field. If you're going to look up to someone who is fortunate, do so because of the time and effort they give those who are less fortunate.
Mostly, and this is something I'm working on daily - it sometimes involve steps backward - be the person your child wants to emulate. Leave the kind of footprints that your children want to follow.
Athletes are not role models, but parents certainly are.
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org