When pro athlete role models fall short


By Owen Halberstadt

Graphic by Lynn Kim

Whether it’s wanting the newest LeBron’s or seeing your favorite athlete appear in TV commercials, big-named athletes find a place in your everyday life. The influence athletes have  can inspire in a positive way, but when that athlete flips the switch and sets an example of unethical or unhealthy behavior, it makes you question your morals. 

In his fourth season in the league, Ja Morant is currently one of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA’s) brightest stars. The Memphis Grizzlies’ point guard has taken the league by storm and entranced fans with his high-flying dunks and spectacular no-look passes. Arenas throughout the league are filled with Morant’s number 12 jerseys, the sixth most popular jersey sold this season. 

At just 23 years old, Morant joined elite company as he became the 23rd player in NBA history to receive his own signature shoe with Nike. Morant has gained a significant following with young fans across the league — videos of young fans crying in joy and disbelief as Morant gifts them his worn Ja 1’s have gone viral on social media. 

Young players across the country have embraced Morant’s swagger and confidence by celebrating after drilling threes and not shying away from trash talk. 

Morant has recently been under fire for flashing a gun in a strip club after a March 3 loss to the Denver Nuggets. He received an eight-game suspension for his actions and issued an apology, in which he took full responsibility for his behavior. 

Despite receiving such minimal punishment, this incident brings questions to the role athletes play and the impact both their negative and positive actions have on fans across the world. 

Morant’s irresponsibility and negligence for his career sets a bad image to children on what hard work and being a responsible adult really means. When kids see an adult who has worked to become one of the NBA’s best basketball players risk it all by being reckless, it diminishes all it has taken for Morant to reach the level he is now on and shines a bad light on the NBA as a whole.
As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Antonio Brown was one of my favorite players growing up. Since I was nine, I sported Brown’s jersey at all times and watched him kill defenses and dominate the National Football League (NFL). 

However, my admiration for him flipped over as Brown began to assault women, punch his team’s general manager and became such a toxic individual in the locker room that no team wanted to keep him. It was hard to see one of my favorite players in the league tarnish his reputation and set a bad example for fans everywhere. 

A lifelong football fan, I have been watching JJ Watt since I was young. While he is best known for his five year dominance in the NFL, at the height of his career, he was still able to spend a lot of time doing what was right. 

The formidable defensive lineman raised $37 million to help people in his Houston community recover from the detrimental effects of Hurricane Harvey. His work in the community set a great example for me and millions of others and has inspired me to start volunteering and helping those in need.

While it is common to strive to follow in the footsteps of our favorite athletes, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that our idealizations of these celebrities may be faulty and that there is a human behind the fame. Following both Antonio Brown and JJ Watt as a fan, I idolized their every move. 

While Morant, Brown and Watt have dominated with their style of play, the difference in how they carried themselves impacted me significantly. While on the field, play is how athletes grab the eye of young fans; however, it’s how they act off of it that makes the biggest impact.  

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