The recent deaths of former NFL co-MVP Steve McNair and pop icon Michael Jackson has been overshadowed in mainstream media by the apparent flaws and mistakes the two made throughout their lives.
Instead of celebrating the lives of these two great men and the contributions they made to society, media outlets such as CNN and ESPN have ridiculed their mistakes and criticized their lifestyles as if the wrong they did outweighs the good. Viewers of these networks have gone so far as to say we should not honor these men because they were not perfect.
Truthfully, viewing athletes as role models is a slippery slope. As a society we place too much emphasis on emulating those in the public eye. Our younger generation often views athletes as role models, and we usually place them on pedestals as if they live a perfect life, when in actuality they are just as flawed and human as anyone of us.
Nevertheless, McNair was indeed a role model. When scouts and critics said that a Black quarterback from a small college like Alcorn State University did not have the ability or the intelligence to be successful at the highest level, McNair, like his predecessor Doug Williams, proved that stereotype incorrect, paving the way for quarterbacks such as the Minnesota Vikings’ Tarvaris Jackson, an Alabama State University alumnus.
When McNair was a member of the Houston Oilers, he got a call from a friend who wanted him to reach out to a troubled, but talented teenager, who was on the verge of getting involved with gangs. He reached out to that young man named Vince Young, becoming a father figure, and helping him reach legendary status as quarterback of the University of Texas and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, as well as a birth in the Pro Bowl during his first year with McNair’s former team, the Tennessee Titans.
Despite wanting to view athletes as role models, and falsely believing they are flawless, McNair was one thing that should be praised, genuine. When fans and critics view athletes as role models, they should ask themselves “are they themselves perfect?” If the answer is no, then why should we expect those in the public eye to achieve perfection in their lives?
Although, McNair will receive criticism in death that he somehow avoided when he was on the field, the 13-year NFL veteran should not be the one receiving criticism for his imperfections. The criticism should be directed towards us, the fans and critics.
Too often in life, we put our trust in human beings. Whether it is in a romantic relationship or viewing athletes as role models, we put our faith, hopes and dreams in the hands of someone who is on the same level as us, and we are devastated when we realize that the person we had so much faith in is flawed and far from flawless.
The disappointment that many feel towards McNair is a reminder that only God is perfect and if we continue to view athletes as role models we must realize that their role in life is to perform on the field, but they will never be perfect on or off of it.