EDITOR’S NOTE: Which athletes win the admiration of the youth i
EDITOR’S NOTE: Which athletes win the admiration of the youth in America’s heartland? In the last of a five-part series on role models, 145 youngsters in schools around Columbus, Ohio, were asked about their sports heroes and why they are respected.
Undated (AP) _ By RUSTY MILLER AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The perception by many in Middle America is that athletes aren’t the same on or off the field as they used to be in the days of Joe DiMaggio, Bill Russell and Johnny Unitas.
It’s a recurring theme: No longer are athletes playing the game and leading their lives as if there were impressionable kids watching.
Times used to be different and simpler.
In the mid-1950s, the pace was as slow and methodical as the Ohio River that eased by the small town where John Havlicek grew up.
Without a TV set until his freshman year in high school, Havlicek never was exposed to trash-talking basketball players, head-hunting pitchers or cheap- shot football stars on 100 cable channels. He spent his time shooting hoops, throwing the football, hunting and fishing.
His values came from his parents and the rest of his extended family, which took in many of the several hundred residents of Lansing, Ohio.
Later, after winning a national championship with Jerry Lucas at Ohio State, and after becoming a star with the dominant Boston Celtics, Havlicek didn’t lose sight of his roots.
″I always felt that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and one day to tear it down. So I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that and what the people’s perception of me was,″ Havlicek said from his home near Boston.
″Therefore, I acted accordingly - and if I didn’t, my parents probably would have kicked my butt.″
That epitomizes the way it used to be - discipline, respect and courtesy learned at home.
Today’s ideals, at least in the perception of many in the heartland, may be represented by the Phoenix Suns’ Charles Barkley looking into a camera in a commercial and saying: ″I am not a role model. I am not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.″
But the perception might not be accurate. Questions asked of 145 high school and middle school students from suburban and country areas near Columbus, Ohio, revealed that parents still have the most impact on young lives. It also showed kids believe athletes should be respected for their physical skills, but are not and should not be considered people to emulate off the field or court.
When asked which people had the most impact on their lives, the students overwhelmingly cited parents, friends and peers, and teachers - rather than athletes.
But they also still admire athletes. Many of the students said the athletes’ physical skills, fame and money appealed to them.
Tim Barney, 18, said he admired Barkley because ″he said what’s on his mind.″ Justin Gafford, age 13, said he admired the NBA star because ″you can mouth off and beat people up.″
Michael Jordan was mentioned most often as the most-admired athlete. Some said they liked him because of his championship rings and jumping ability. But a 15-year-old spoke for several others: ″I know it sounds corny, but he set out to play baseball and even though he’s not the best he stuck with it. I admire that.″
The line between role model and a celebrity or hero is often vague. Athletes concede they may have an impact on a kid’s life, but they also recognize that parents, siblings and peers have a greater impact.
″I had athletes as role models. I also had people like my dad and (golf mentor) Jack Grout,″ said Jack Nicklaus, who grew up in a Columbus suburb.
″But it isn’t just what they accomplish on the course, court or field that makes them role models. Not at all,″ said Nicklaus. ″It’s really the whole package. Sometimes, the stuff off the field is far more important. What kind of father or mother are they? What kind of values do they send out there about the family, sportsmanship, work? How do they treat people? Do they give of their time?″
Many athletes who set a good example off the playing field say it is because of the lessons they learned from their parents.
″I want to set an example for my kids,″ said All-Star second-baseman Carlos Baerga of the Cleveland Indians. ″I want them to be nice. That’s something I learned from my father.″
Detroit Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder said, ″It’s just my nature that I feel it’s important to be a role model because you’re in the public eye so much. It’s a privilege, really.″
Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz grew up in a small mill town on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
″Parents should be a role model, but you cannot hide the fact that people growing up with an inclination to athletics are going to use athletes and coaches as role models,″ Holtz said. ″It’s only natural. And if you want to emulate their athletic performance, you’re going to also emulate their off- the-field philosophy.″
Some kids may not be able to draw a distinction between athletic accomplishments and humain frailties. But many have an understanding that there is a line between what they see on television and what is proper.
″No, they should not be role models. I think people look up to their abilities but not their lifestyles,″ said Rachel Campbell, 14.
″They are just regular people playing a sport and can make mistakes too,″ said Robby Davis, 16.
″Kids need people to look up to but I feel role models should be carefully chosen and be leaders in all areas, not just athletics,″ said Suzanne Knott, 16.
Others say kids should pick the best traits of athletes.
″They are the products of hard work and practice and they show kids what can happen if you try,″ said 14-year-old Kristin Howard.
″I think they should be admired for their accomplishments, not for their morals or anything else,″ said Matt Maguire, 17.
Finally, 15-year-old Bobby Jones had this to say to the athletes: ″I think they should just do their jobs and let other people judge what they are.″