Role model—defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others.”
If you’ve picked up a newspaper or turned on a television sometime over the past couple weeks, you’ll probably agree that this definition hasn’t fared too well lately, particularly on the gridiron. After widespread fallout from the NFL’s mishandling of domestic abuse, headlines have again been dominated by Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy incumbent Jameis Winston—and again, for the wrong reasons.
Winston’s public outburst last week earned him a sideline suspension during one of the biggest games of the season. This incident involving America’s most notable college football player comes in the wake of sexual assault allegations and a shoplifting citation.
Yet, in a New York Times story on the issue by Marc Tracy, Winston is provided with a defense—“being as visible as Winston is at a young age cannot be easy.”
For all I know, life is tough when you’re a prospective No. 1 draft pick and future recipient of a multi-million-dollar signing bonus. “Play good football, and don’t get in trouble” sounds like a simple tradeoff, but it’s way tougher than it sounds.
To Winston and his defenders, I have this to say—cry me a river.
He is the face of a national pastime. He has a future of fame and financial security waiting in front of him that most kids can only dream of. And you want me to feel sympathy for him? It’d be very easy for any of us to rip into Winston and his conduct. But just this once, let’s turn the spotlight away from him and onto our society’s double meaning for the word “role model.”
There are some who would say that we should judge those we esteem solely by their performance on the field and not by their actions off of it. These people probably agree with former NBA player Charles Barkley, who explained, “just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
Maybe this camp speaks for the majority of our society. It wasn’t so long ago that 73 percent of Americans approved of President Bill Clinton following impeachment, believing that what someone does in the “privacy of the Oval Office” shouldn’t affect a job rating.
But our beliefs don’t match up with our rhetoric. If you’re telling me that Winston deserves to keep his Heisman Trophy because he is the best college football player in the country, then why does the award’s mission statement claim to also symbolize “the fostering of a sense of community responsibility and service to our youth?” On one hand, we want our idols to embody a moral standard that runs deeper than a spot on the field or the responsibilities of an executive office. On the other, we want to give them a free pass because they’re only human.
But stars are only stars because we deem them so—those who complain about being idealized are the direct recipients of the public’s esteem. And they must remember that being a role model is no choice, but a responsibility.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. If the crown is too heavy, then take it off.
Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff