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Steinberg: Athletes must be role models

Steinberg Says

December 03, 2011|By Leigh Steinberg

Sports sections today read like the business section of the newspaper, or even worse the crime beat section.

Since I have spent almost 40 years advocating the concept of athletes serving as role models and triggering imitative behavior, it is especially distressing to see the model of poor decision making. The advent of 24-hours-a-day news channels, talk radio, blogs, cellphone cameras and all celebrity oriented media has the effect of amplifying negative behavior.

When Michael Vick abused dogs, we saw the story repeated non-stop for weeks and it created the image that Vick abused dogs every day of his life and that is who he is.

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When Ryan Leaf, the former Chargers quarterback, was caught on tape yelling at a reporter in the locker room it was shown ad nauseum until viewers had seen the same clip over and over again. The impression left by multiple viewings was that Leaf was always out of control and in confrontations. The clip messed up his career.

Fans are led to believe that most athletes drive drunk, engage in domestic violence, are involved with guns and bar fights nightly, and cannot stay away from drugs and alcohol. The reality is that we test athletes and monitor their behavior closely and rates of drunk driving, domestic violence, gun use, fighting and drug and alcohol abuse have dropped dramatically in the last 30 years.

When Babe Ruth walked through a team train with two girls on his arm, wobbly from alcohol, writers didn't write it. No press reported on infidelity, domestic abuse or certain crimes in the past. Now it is all fair game in our celebrity news madness. There are readers and viewers who feel better about their own failures and difficulties when they hear about athletic misbehavior. One incident is too many and can push fans away from sports.

How can they be prevented?

In the first meeting with an athlete I have always emphasized the fish-bowl nature of their existence and the need to behave in a circumspect manner. If an athlete is offended by having to obey laws, refrain from substance abuse, graciously sign autographs and comport themselves in a decent manner, I tell them they have an alternative: play on a sandlot.

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