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Role Models

“I am not a role model.” Spoken 29 years ago by then NBA basketball star and now a TV hoops commentator, Charles Barkley, that famous quote has long been remembered and often referenced. Those six words were the opening line of a 1993 Nike TV commercial during which Barkley went on to say, “I’m not

“I am not a role model.”

Spoken 29 years ago by then NBA basketball star and now a TV hoops commentator, Charles Barkley, that famous quote has long been remembered and often referenced. Those six words were the opening line of a 1993 Nike TV commercial during which Barkley went on to say, “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m 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.”

Although Barkley can’t be confused with an intellectual orator, the message he was conveying should rank high on the list among the best things athletes have ever uttered. Indeed, parents should be the role models, but whether they are or not, their children still look at star athletes as someone they look up to and would like to emulate.

As a youngster growing up, my favorite athletes were baseball stars Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, and the Boston Celtics John Havlicek. Their pictures adorned my bedroom walls, and whenever their games appeared on the tube, I was glued to the action. One of my greatest thrills, among so many I have enjoyed over the years, was meeting Banks when he visited the Little League World Series many years ago. A conversation we shared at Lamade Stadium resulted in Banks inviting me to join him at the Genetti Hotel, where we sat and talked baseball.

They were my sports heroes, and although the personal flaws of yesterday’s sports figures were not made known as they are today, to my knowledge, none of these men ever came off as being bigger than the sports they so successfully played. Perhaps the media is at fault, but today all too many of the game’s stars most certainly qualify to Barkley’s words of not being role models.

Retired TV late-night host David Letterman was famous for his top ten list covering a wide array of timely topics. The following is my own top three list of current sports figures whose actions live up to Barkley’s words.
#3 Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The star of TV commercials and game show hosting the talented QB is the front runner to be named the NFL’s MVP after leading the Packers to the NFC’s top seed entering the playoffs. However, setting an example playing what has been referred to as the ultimate team game is another story.

Although under contract with Green Bay through 2023, he chose to boycott the team’s pre-season workouts stating he wanted out of Green Bay. He issued dubious statements pertaining to his vaccination status, later admitting he misled people about the same. His action cost the Packers a $300,000 fine from the NFL, while he received a paltry $14,650 fine for his actions.
#2 Antonio Brown, former Tampa Bay wide receiver.

The latest chapter in the troubled Brown’s NFL career came two weeks ago when he refused instructions to enter the game and walked off the field during the Buc’s game against the Jets, stripping down to the waist and throwing uniforms items into the stands. Brown’s career is littered with various conduct issues while with the Steelers, Raiders, and Patriots.

Brown later admitted, “It probably wasn’t necessary or professional.”
#1 Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

He was held out of the Nets’ first 35 games because he refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. He is unable to play home games because of New York City’s vaccination mandate and was unwelcomed on the road, with the Nets saying they didn’t want a part-time player.

However, things changed when the Nets found themselves short-handed due to the COVID outbreak. While 97% of the NBA players are fully vaccinated, Irving said, “I knew the consequences.” The Nets caved and now allow Irving to play road games only.

But on the bright side, here are my nominations for a pair of non-professional athletes worthy of emulation.
John Harrar, Penn State basketball

Given an extra year of eligibility via the NCAA covid rules, the 6’9 senior decided to return to the Nittany Lions and has gained the respect of fans, teammates, and opponents alike. Far from flashy, Harrar has started all PSU’s games the past two seasons and was named as the recipient of the Big Ten’s Outstanding Sportsmanship Award last season.

In a recent game against Indiana, Harrar sat out much of the second half with a leg injury but returned to lead a late comeback in the Lions’ 61-58 win. Following the game, he came back from the locker room to greet a host of young fans by posing for pictures and signing autographs.
Stetson Bennett IV, University of Georgia quarterback

Yes, he stands at the top of the collegiate heap after leading his team to the NCAA championship with the defeat of long-time nemesis Alabama last week. But his on-the-field heroics fail to explain his determined rise to the top.

Perhaps generously listed at 6’ he drew little pre-college interest from recruiters. He was under-sized and under-appreciated. Most projected him as a potential backup QB for a Power Five school. At age 3, he told his Dad he wanted to play QB for Georgia. As a freshman walk-on, he didn’t quit despite being buried down the depth chart at his dream school. He didn’t quit when he transferred to Jones County Community College. He didn’t quit when he bet on himself by transferring back to Georgia, hoping for playing time.

He began this season as a backup QB, but early in the season, he got his chance to start and certainly made the most of it. Then on the biggest stage, it was he who out-shined Alabama’s Heisman-winning QB Bryce Young to claim college football’s biggest prize.

The little guy had beaten the biggest odds. Asked his thoughts following the game, his response told everything about the character that enabled him to greatness. “Keep your mouth shut. Work hard. Life is tough. Work through it.”

Now there is a role model even Charles Barkley can look up to.