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The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

Athletes as Role Models?


A few months back I hinted at a future post about athletes and their role in our society as role models.

This past weekend I was reminded about my feelings on the subject. What I feel is what I believe to be the Torah approach but is of consequence and significance to anyone and everyone.

Over the weekend the NBA Conference Finals were settled. Something that happened after one team was eliminated has caused a media frenzy.

First, the Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA finals for the 30th time in 61 years. (yay!) That is serious excellence right there. For the non-fans this means that during the games you will be able to drive the speed limit on the 405 because everyone else will be inside watching the game.

Then on Saturday night the impossible happened. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated by the Orlando Magic. Why is this the impossible? LeBron is a “godlike” figure and was expected to “redeem” his team and city by bringing them to the “promised land”. I am not kidding. Sportscenter on ESPN had a segment where a Minister from Cleveland said that Clevelanders were beginning to worship “The King”. LeBron is the most celebrated human being on the planet and is idolized around the world.

Anyway, the poor guy loses in 6 games to the Magic.

Ironically, this gives ABC Broadcasting which is owned by Disney a Walt Disney World (Orlando) vs. Disneyland (LA) Championship. Talk about jackpot!

The custom in all sports is for the losing team to shake the hands of the winning team and congratulate them upon winning. In fact according to Websters, this is the very definition of “Sportsmanship”:

conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.

The word has been around since 1745 and is preached universally to all athletes and competitors.

LeBron was so upset about losing to the Magic that he left the court in a hurry and did not congratulate the winning team. This is a big no-no.

In fact, he was so upset by the loss he also skipped out on the mandatory press conference.

That is bad sportsmanship. No question about it.

Do I care?

Absolutely not.

I don’t expect better from an athlete. His excellence in Basketball has no bearing on his excellence in social skills, personal growth, intelligence, happiness or even sportsmanship. The only thing that he does that commands respect is his ball playing prowess. That is the only thing I look up to in this person.

Is he sending a bad message?

Yes.

But I don’t turn to LeBron for messages on Sportsmanship. Nor do I turn to any athlete or celebrity for anything other than waht makes them unique or special.

As a parent it is my job to provide good role models for my children. I may need to be that role model at times. At other times it will teachers, Rabbis, family members or other people who command respect for their area of specialty. Athletes are not role models. Allowing an athlete to be the role model for your child is a failure in  your parenting.

Athletes may by chance turn out to be wonderful people whom we may respect for their abilities beyond sports, and that is great but it is not the norm. I myself have commented on some athletes ability to prepare for their games and we can learn about preparation from them. However, expecting athletes to be role models is a terrible idea.

I think parents get lazy and expect their children to learn good values without taking the time or effort to teach those values. When the child gets nothing from his parents, athletes may fill that void. Ultimately they will all disappoint us.

Be a role model and don’t rely on superhuman athletes to do it for you.

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13 Responses

  1. Manny Saltiel says:

    While I agree wholeheartedly that sports stars are not to be worshipped, the reality is that kids (and I dare say, to many adults) do learn from their favorite athletes. As such, it is imperative that someone yell at the little (OK, big) brat and tell him he needs to publically apologize for his childish, selfish reaction.

    • rabbifink says:

      I agree. Maybe that should be his mother’s job… Oh yes, I forgot, LeBron yells at his mother —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lsAkR09F_I.

      But I firmly believe he should apologize not for the sake of the kids but for his own sake. The kids should be learning from REAL role models, not superhuman athletes. It is a parent’s job to imbue their child with values and not leave that up to athletes.

  2. chappy81 says:

    Lebron has caused quite the uprising with this one… I think that it was a poor decision, and I can’t think of another high profile athlete to do it since Isiah Thomas did it to Jordan’s Bulls in 93. As Barkeley once said “I’m not a role model!” check out our blog http://doin-work.com

    • rabbifink says:

      Nice blog! I like it.

      Idiotic move on LeBron’s part. Rivaled only by idiotic adults who let their kids worship athletes. My kid loves sports and so do I, but we know who our real role models are…

  3. bobbygee says:

    I loved their game that’s it. I copied and prefected the moves that they did on the court. My role models were my parents Rabbi,and Minister. Not athletes. Give the cat a break. The state run media or drive by media will tear him a new one and then leave the scene. All the media does is cause wreckage in someone’s life. Bobby Gee. Check out my blog.
    http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

  4. […] the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice, Calif., wrote about James and other athletes as role models in this piece from his blog. This part caught my eye: That is bad sportsmanship. No question about […]

  5. Chaim Gross says:

    Would it surprise anybody that I did not know about this faux pas or who Lebron is?

    Without heroic activity life is mundane;all media athletes or superstars are symbols talking to our need to participate in the herd and the heroic by identification( explaining a lot of media politics). Even acknowledging this social stir in the negative reveals our truly human needs and expectations from iconic heroes of participating in their heroism. Its only when we subsitute this symbolic participation for reality do we reconstruct idolatry as religion .

  6. Forsythe says:

    you mentioned that you were going to quote some sort of Torah viewpoint here. (“What I feel is what I believe to be the Torah approach but is of consequence and significance to anyone and everyone.”)
    did you?

    • rabbifink says:

      I did not say I was going to quote anything from the Torah.

      I believe the Torah approach is to provide our children with good role models and not rely on athletes or celebrities to teach our children values. Our Rabbis teach he “aseh lcha rav” make for yourself a teacher. That is how we learn – not from superhuman athletes with bad sportsmanship.

  7. […] My recent post on LeBron James, his bad sportsmanship and why I athletes are not role models is link… The Sportsmanship post has now surpassed “The Speed of History” as the most popular post on this blog. […]

  8. […] reminds me of my take on LeBron James and his poor sportsmanship. We need to be sensible enough to differentiate athletic talent, musical talent, or any other […]

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