Role models are up for debate

RYAN STIEG

Are athletes supposed to be role models?

This is a debate that comes up every now and then, but it never gets settled.

Some believe very strongly about this, almost demanding that athletes just quietly go about their business and play the game. Others are more lenient about it and would rather have them be themselves and display their personalities instead of just doing their jobs.

It’s not the most heated fight in sports, but it’s one that can ignite passions that fans may not typically express.

This debate was on display last season during football quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s famous stance on not standing for the national anthem before games. His act inspired other athletes to do the same.

Many called him a traitor or worse and felt like he was disrespecting just about everybody by doing so. Kaepernick also had some defenders who said he had a right to do what he did and he may have a point about what was going on in society.

For a brief period, things quieted down and fans on both sides seemed to be starting to just focus on their favorite team’s schedule or their fantasy football leagues.

However, then the horrible events in Charlottesville, Virginia, happened last weekend and things got heated once again.

As almost everyone knows, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and armed militia members decided to march angrily in the Virginia college town over the possible removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Things got vicious rather quickly, resulting in a woman being killed by a white nationalist ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, and in a separate incident, a black man was beaten by white guys with poles.

The whole thing was ugly, despicable and showed how far we still have to go as a country when it comes to race relations.

Naturally, some athletes decided to make a statement about the horrible events that took place.

LeBron James made his on Twitter as well as others like U.S. women’s soccer player Alex Morgan.

New York Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins was blunt with his feelings in an interview with the New York Daily News.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist during the national anthem, while teammate Chris Long kept his hand on Jenkins’ shoulder.

The Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett decided to sit during the anthem and the Oakland Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch did the same.

However, unlike Bennett, Lynch never specified why he did it. He supported Kaepernick’s decision last year, so the theory is that he was trying to make some sort of statement, but Lynch has been a mystery for years so who knows what’s in his head.

Even though it made perfect sense for people to share their opinions in public, some didn’t think they should do so.

One of them was former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, who decided to tweet out “athletes are looked up to & serve as roll (yep, he spelled it wrong) models, leave personal opinions about race and politics alone. Do what you get paid to do and play!”

This was an odd thing to do after a tragedy that enraged many Americans, not just athletes. Rather than trying to grasp the magnitude of the situation, Finley basically told athletes to shut up.

He even went on to say that Lynch’s and Bennett’s protests were just publicity stunts and they didn’t mean what they were doing.

Finley had some people agree with him, but most fired back, including Bennett’s brother Martellus, who asked him “What role are you modeling?” Packers defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix joined in and told Martellus Bennett to “not waste his time” and that it “might roll over his (Finley’s) head.”

The person who tore into him the most was his wife, though. She sent out a long statement blasting her husband, calling his comments “absurd and offensive,” and defending Lynch, Bennett and other protesting athletes.

Apparently, he came around as Finley vowed to “educate myself” in a later tweet. That’s probably something he should’ve done before he started tweeting.

As fans, we tend to hold athletes to a high standard for conduct that we don’t hold others or even ourselves to. We expect them to not only be athletically talented, but also to be virtually perfect both on and off the field, court or rink.

They can’t get angry out there because then they’re teaching kids not to control their emotions. They can’t get excited and celebrate because that’s not sportsmanlike. If they’re hurt, they’re expected to play through the pain, and if they can’t, they aren’t showing enough effort.

Just imagine if you were expected to be like that every day, 365 days a year. You’d probably get frustrated as much as they do.

I wrote in a previous column that sometimes you can’t just stick to sports. That goes for not only journalists, but athletes as well. If something bothers them, whether it’s politics or social issues, we shouldn’t look down on them for speaking out. They are taking a stand for something they believe in and that’s something that should be admired.

Role models come in different forms. You can look at some people, whether they’re athletes or not, who just focus on their own business.

They come in, do their job the best they can and just try to stay out of the spotlight. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, we all will be judged not just on who we are, but what we did in our lives. Would you rather be the one who stayed quiet and worried about what others might think, or would you be the one who spoke up and tried to make things better?

Personally, I’d rather be the second one.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.