Celebrity athletes: Who’s vulnerable when role models fall?


Children and television
iger Woods claimed role-model status. He had a long way to fall when his infidelities were revealed.

Charles Barkley disavowed being a role model. As a result, he wasn’t held to account for his behavior. (Scroll down to read more about Woods and Barkley.)

Either way, adults can make up their own minds about star athletes.

The vulnerable are adolescents who so often idolize sports figures, the boys and girls who look up to their favorite players and closely follow their careers. Imagine, for example, how many soccer girls have decorated their rooms with posters of Mia Hamm.

Baseball was my favorite sport when I was a boy. I idolized Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth. The biographies I read were heavily sanitized and the media kept mum on infidelities and problems with alcohol. Only as an adult did I learn the full story about my boyhood idols.

That wouldn’t be true today. Any boy or girl following Tiger Woods knows (or can easily find out) about his personal behavior. With the Internet and a no-holds-barred media, no one is protected from the truth.

How are adolescents who idolize Woods reacting to the news? What does it mean to them?

I suppose if it came up in a family conversation, it would be one of those “teachable moments.” But life is full of teachable moments, and I’m glad that my son is too young to know or care about Tiger Woods.

Have you had to explain about Woods—or any other role model who has fallen from grace? Tell us about your experiences. (I’ll be keeping notes for the time when a Woods-like issue inevitably comes up in a conversation with my son.)


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