Twenty-eight years later, and Charles Barkley is still right – for once.
“I am not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids,” Barkley said in the iconic 1993 Nike commercial.
Laila Ali isn’t a role model, either.
“People don’t seem to understand that just b/c some folks don’t wear masks, don’t want the shot, don’t listen to the media or live in fear…it doesn’t mean they don’t ‘believe’ the virus is real or think they can’t get it! They know it was created to harm humanity!” Ali wrote a post on social media in which she said that people should “trust their own immune systems” and told people to “do you!”
Before this week, no one was talking about Ali. She didn’t have reporters knocking on her door asking her thoughts on the pandemic or the vaccine. This is why it’s so confusing that she just chose to offer up this terrible take when all she had to do was keep her beliefs to herself and say nothing at all.
In a 2018 interview, Ali once said, “It’s not about how much money you have, it’s thinking about how we can make this world a better place.”
Three years later, and Ali is against a vaccine that is actually trying to make “this world a better place.” Her stance is also in direct conflict with her father’s wishes, as social media was quick to point out that the Muhammad Ali Center’s Twitter account posted a photo in March of her father in his heyday getting a shot, as they marked the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the impact that athletes and sports can have on society. However, being activists and change agents isn’t their primary job. It’s more like a very important extracurricular activity that they can pick up if they want.
But, for every yin there’s a yang.
So, if Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, Maya Moore, and Megan Rapinoe are out here trying to do right, it means that there will be athletes like Ali doing wrong.
As we approach the start of football season, we’ve watched the NFL become the league of anti-vaxxers, as coaches have been fired and players have whined. Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, Buffalo’s Cole Beasley, and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson have all been in the news for their stances against science and survival. These are the types of players that are viewed, by some, as role models, as their talents on the field and their good — and bad — deeds off it are often viewed as positive or negative examples.
But, while all that sounds good, it’s a fantasy. Athletes are flawed humans just like the rest of us. They fail and do stupid stuff, too. It’s just that the stakes are higher for them, which means that they get too much of the glory when they do something good, and let down folks when they do something as ignorant as announcing their stance as an anti-vaxxer.
Athletes aren’t role models, they’re human beings. So, stop being disappointed when they don’t turn out to be the person you imagined them to be. Because if they want to be dumb jocks, please, by all means: let them.