What valuable lesson can youngsters learn from famous athletes who recently made headlines for the wrong reasons?
Within the last few weeks a couple of superstars from the sports world -- Alex Rodriguez and Michael Phelps -- have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Rodriguez, a member of the New York Yankees whose spot was all but assured in the Baseball Hall of Fame, was caught lying about using steroids. Phelps, who brought back eight Olympic gold medals from the 2008 games, was photographed apparently puffing on a marijuana pipe.
The two men have taken different approaches to handling the negative publicity.
Rodriguez, who has a chance at passing Barry Bonds to become baseball’s all-time home run champion, blames a cousin for his positive drug test in 2003. The cousin persuaded Rodriguez to allow him to inject a substance that supposedly would provide a “dramatic energy boost.” The drug reportedly was obtained without a prescription and without consulting doctors or trainers.
According to Rodriguez, his only mistake was being “young and stupid.”
Phelps, who despite the photo will not be charged with a crime because of a lack of physical evidence, never disputed the authenticity of the picture that first appeared in a British newspaper earlier this month.
Phelps, in a statement released to the media after it was announced he would not be charged, acknowledged that “I used bad judgment, and it’s a mistake I won’t make again.”
Since reading that remark, I must admit wondering if the “mistake” he won’t make again is smoking marijuana or doing so without first looking over his shoulder to ensure no one with a camera is lurking.
While neither Rodriguez nor Phelps are facing criminal charges, both are facing considerable fallout.
A three-time American League most valuable player, Rodriguez for years denied using performance-enhancing drugs. He is now being branded a “liar” and “cheater” by many in the media.
As for Phelps, he has been suspended for three months by USA Swimming. In addition, Phelps was dropped as a spokesperson for the Kellogg Co. quicker than you can say “cornflakes.” In the aftermath of all the bad press, Phelps expressed his appreciation for the support his family and fans have shown him.
But what will the lasting impact be on the images of these two individuals who had been icons of their respective sports? How many Phelps posters have been peeled off bedroom walls by young fans? How many pinstripe jerseys bearing the name and number of Rodriguez have been relegated to the back of closets?
Phelps, who in 2004 was arrested on a drunken driving charge, expressed hope that youngsters will learn from his latest bad decision.
“... Be careful about the decisions you make,” he said. “One bad decision can really hurt you and the people you care about.”
It’s hard to predict the conclusions that will be drawn by the impressionable youngsters who looked to Rodriguez and Phelps as celebrity role models.
Sadly, some will rationalize that if it’s OK for their hero to break rules, then it must be acceptable to ignore regulations whenever they see fit.
My hope is that young fans will no longer look on these men as “gods” of sport to be idolized, but athletes who for all their God-given talent are still fallible human beings.