From my latest post at WorldMag.com:
“I’m not a role model . . . Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
Charles Barkley, known for his bluntness and candor, famously said the above during his NBA playing days. And he was absolutely right—at least his sentiment was. His skill on the hardwood should make no difference as to how he is viewed as a person and should have no influence on anyone. He should be recognized for his playing ability and appreciated as such. It’s that simple.
Except that it’s not.
In reality, athletes (and all celebrities) carry great influence into many areas of life. They popularize fashions, normalize language, and exemplify ethical and moral standards. While we’d be wise to downplay this influence in our own lives there’s no denying its cultural power. But it does raise the question: Do athletes have a responsibility to use their position to change culture?
The short answer is “No,” at least not explicitly. Professional athletes are famous for their performance in competitions and are primarily focused on their work, just as you and I are focused on our vocations. Most people expect nothing more than that for them to be decent. But that does ignore the tacit influence they do hold. Just by being decent people, by wearing a pinstriped vest, or by playing certain music, they make a difference. No, celebrities do not have a responsibility to do or be any more than anyone else. But when they choose to do so, the impact is massive.
. . . intentional, clear statements turn an athlete’s platform into a mighty tool. They reach more people with a message in less time than just about anyone. The media takes notice. Fans watch. And they raise awareness and kick-start conversations. The ripple effect is enormous.
. . .