Because we live in a media age where images are captured and transported world-wide in seconds, it’s all the more difficult for high-profile politicians, entertainers and athletes to be successfully “on” every minute of the day.
Fair or not, society sometimes places a higher level of behavioral expectation on certain individuals. When they "fail", it gets reported on extensively. Some of us perhaps expect too much, in terms of what we consider to be appropriate behaviour.
And parents, who should be the real role-models themselves, sometimes expect athletes to do the job for them.
During the current World Cup of soccer, Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo left many observers wondering if his world-class skills were slowly, subtly slipping away. Still a marvelously talented player, Ronaldo could not lift his team past the round of 16.
Of more relevance for me was his behaviour.
According to various accounts, he was sometimes petulant, with disdain directed toward not only probing photographers but his own national team Coach. Commentators invoked memories of his refusal to shake hands after a loss at the 2006 World Cup as further evidence that he lacked the grace we, ideally, would like to see if such a marvelously gifted individual—win or lose.
Now, “star” athletes are often granted far too much leeway from an early age. And this is not a new phenomenon. This has been an issue for generations, where “athletes” receive special, often pampered treatment. If they don’t do well in school, they are nonetheless moved along because they are great athletes. Terrible attitude? Doesn’t matter, they’re great athletes. Break the law in a college town? That’s OK too, as the Coach, administration and local law enforcement are there to cover up any “minor” misdeeds.
So when things don’t go their way, these young people become adults who sometimes (not always) have a tendency to blame others. It’s never their own “fault”, not their responsibility.
Ronaldo may be a swell individual, but as the years go by he more and more, at least publicly, presents as a spoiled brat. On the field is a diver, a complainer, not a true team player and someone who blames others when things don’t go well.
In a sense, this decline in the sporting world has been in evidence for many years. Those who were around in the early 1980s well remember that John McEneroe, a tremendously talented tennis player, set new (and very low) standards in on-court behaviour. His awful outbursts at calls that went against him were actually applauded in some quarters. A minor monetary fine here and there was hardly enough to stem the torrent of abuse he directed at officials. Eventually, the sport was filled with too much of that kind of behaviour. Classy individuals within that sport like Arthur Ashe and Rod Laver must have been aghast at what they were witnessing.
The world has changed and we will likely never recapture the times when pro athletes like Bart Starr in football, Jean Beliveau in hockey and Joe DiMaggio in baseball set behave in a manner that did indeed meet the “role-model” gold standard. There are athletes nowadays who meet that standard, and they should be applauded.
In fact, it probably behooves those of us who care about the messages young people receive from what would have once upon a time described as sporting “heroes”, to focus more on the “good guys” in sport than the self-centered ones.
As for Ronaldo, we—and our children—can all admire his well-honed talents. However, we don’t have to like the way he all too often acts.