Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer A Higher Standard?

The lack of decency in athletes mimics today’s society.

By Bob Rush

MARCH 6, 2000:  I recently heard a sports talk show that discussed the question, "Should athletes be held to a higher standard?" The question struck me as odd. In my mind "should" was not an issue. The fact is, they are, always have been, always will be. Actually, higher standard is not the problem. It's visibility.

People tend to forget that, warts and all, athletes are simply a cross section of society. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If it exists in society, you'll find it in athletes. You will also find "it" in butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.

I have personally seen virtually every category of human being expressed in the form of athletes, including drug addicts, wife beaters, alcoholics, thieves, tax cheats, and rapists. I've been acquainted with bed wetters, obsessive-compulsives, manic-depressives, and full-blown schizophrenics. Athletes surface as heterosexuals, homosexuals, and cross dressers. And there are also some that stand out as the finest, most well-adjusted people on the planet. Athletic supporters (and sports bras) fit everyone. There is no magical effect.

Successful folks live in fishbowls. I don't attach any value judgment to that. That's just the way it is. If your neighbor has a fender bender, you may never know it unless you notice some unusual curves in the profile of his new Taurus. Let it happen to Michael Jackson, Ross Perot, Bill Gates, or Tiger Woods and it's on CNN. Hell, there might even be one of those ongoing newsbreak teasers with a catchy title like "Tiger's Toyota (okay, Buick then), Terror Behind the Wheel, Day Two... The Skid Marks."

Think about it. We get it from the media every day. Would the average Joe like to live under such scrutiny? I don't think so. In my life as a sales manager, I never saw a single newspaper article critical of my decision to hire a new salesperson. Nope, no letter to the editor saying, "I can't believe he hired another guy with no medical sales experience. Looks like ol' Bob has shot himself in the foot again."

Coaches and Athletic Directors aren't so lucky. Is that fair? Who cares -- it's in the job description. Like it or not, certain occupations are subject to the light of public scrutiny. Folks that can't accept that fact need to seek another line of work.

Are athletes role models? Should athletes be role models? Are athletes good role models? Do athletes have an obligation to be role models? Sure they do. Call me simple, but in my mind everyone should be a role model. We all play the important role of being a decent individual. I have a hard time thinking that anyone has a greater obligation in this regard. Yes, athletes can serve as role models for people that aspire to be athletes.

I remember when I was with the Chiefs, our 60-year-old, ex-Green Beret strength coach (how's that for a role model) asked each player how he would like to be remembered. It took me about two seconds to reply, "As a fair and honest man."

Realizing from the look on his face that my reply wasn't what he had in mind, I then said, "Okay, I'd like to be remembered as the best center to have ever played the game." Ding! Ding! Ding! Right answer! At least I still have a chance at my first answer.

Truth is, I really feel that young folks seeing athletes in trouble can be a very positive thing. They need to understand that success in athletics (or anything else) doesn't make your problems go away. In fact, success and the trappings that come with it often create more problems than one can imagine. Increased fame and wealth bring taxes, long-lost friends and relatives, hangers-on, and other such joys.

The happiest days of my life (certainly the simplest) were when I lived in the athletic dorm at the University of Memphis. Everything I owned fit in a small closet, and we all had a state-of-the-art motivational tool and alarm clock (Coach Murray Armstrong). I received "three hots and a cot," and all I had to do was go to class and play football. Life was good.

Am I saying that some of the behavior we've seen in athletes should be tolerated? Of course not. But lack of decency and responsibility should not be tolerated in any profession. We shouldn't be shocked to see the reflection of our society in sports. How could we expect anything else?

Should we be appalled by what we see today? Absolutely.


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