Public figures have a huge platform, but that doesn’t always mean they’re role models we can depend on to teach our kids…well, anything really. Case in point: a Tennessee mom who was disappointed recently when she took her daughter to an NFL game and saw what she considered to be unsportsmanlike conduct.
In an open letter in the Charlotte Observer, the mom took Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to task for his vulgar touchdown celebration. She writes that she was at the game with her nine-year-old and they were seated near the end zone, which excited them because they’d be close to the action. Instead, she says, they had to look away after Newton scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter and started dancing.
“Because of where we sat, we had a close up view of your conduct in the fourth quarter. The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the ‘in your face’ taunting of both the Titans’ players and fans. We saw it all.”
Here’s a brief clip of the dance if you’re curious:
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 16, 2015
Newton’s excessive celebration led to jeers and boos from the crowd, and to taunting between fans from opposing sides. His conduct upset both the child and the writer, who says that Newton modeled “egotism, arrogance, and poor sportsmanship,” and has a responsibility to act better because he is a role model.
“I refuse to believe you don’t realize you are a role model. You are paid millions of dollars every week to play hard and be a leader. In the off season you’re expected to make appearances, support charities, and inspire young kids to pursue your sport and all sports. With everything the NFL has gone through in recent years, I’m confident they have advised that you are, by virtue of your position and career choice, a role model.”
Ideally, yes, all professional football players would be role models. Unfortunately, reality is a bit trickier. Thrusting anyone into the position of being a role model is difficult because no matter how wealthy, famous, or talented someone may be, they’re still just a person. Plus, this is the NFL we’re talking about. The organization is littered with scandals involving drugs, sexual assault, domestic violence, and cheating. Touchdown dances or not, it’s difficult to argue that any current football players should be considered role models by default.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy a football game with your kids or trying use it as a jumping off point for instilling the values we typically associate with sports and competition. The only problem is, we can’t always expect people to model the values we support just because they’re in a position of power.
It’s up to us to have conversations with our kids about what is right and wrong, rather than just expecting so-called “role models” to model those behaviors for us. We can point out the good qualities in athletes and celebrities, but at the end of the day, it’s simply not their job to teach our kids anything. Famous people are just people — no better or worse than we are — and it’s far from guaranteed that they’re always going to present a positive image.