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Steinberg: Here's how to defend

July 14, 2013|By Leigh Steinberg

A flood of negative stories regarding athletic behavior have filled all media outlets recently.

The case of accused murderer, NFL star tight end Aaron Hernandez, has triggered a nationwide discussion. There are two dangers to address: 1. The system for preventing and regulating these incidents. 2. The danger that the public will generalize these stories as reflective of overall athletic behavior and become disenchanted and disillusioned with sport.

I have spent the last 40 years promoting the concept of athletes being role models. They are brought into living rooms as larger-than-life heroes. They clearly have the ability to permeate the perceptual screen that young people erect to tune out authority figures to trigger good values and imitative behavior.

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Heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis delivering a public service announcement that said, "Real Men Don't Hit Women," did more to change rebellious adolescents attitude toward domestic violence than 1,000 authority figures could.

Steve Young, the Hall of Fame quarterback, and boxing champ Oscar De La Hoya teaming up for a "Prejudice is Foul Play" public service campaign, influenced what young people think is important to be a champion.

We ask our clients to retrace their roots to the high school, collegiate and professional communities and design scholarship funds and foundations that enrich the quality of life and target specific ills. Players throughout the world of sport do this every day with marginal media exposure. If athletes become connected with misconduct it sends a dangerous message to young people.

Continual monitoring of the systems that screen potential problem behavior prior to entry into pro sports and prevention safeguards needs to occur. There is rigorous testing and background checks that teams employ prior to a player being drafted. All professional leagues and players associations have multiple day awareness programs that focus every potential pro on problem areas and how to prevent them. Franchises have ample psychological and counseling resources to help athletes who are troubled. Each league has substance abuse programs.

Diligence is needed to predict and prevent troubling behavior.

Some perspective is needed before the public assumes that athletic behavior has degenerated compared to the pristine and pure days of sport they remember. The 27 cases of NFL players arrested since the 2013 Draft are 27 too many and need to be addressed and prevented.

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