Aspiring To Our Role Models

Elders are commonly role models through their actions and words, they help shape who we become, influence our personalities, and enable us to mature. They set examples for us and we do as they do, reflecting the way they talk, the way they walk, and the way they interact and live their lives. In addition to our elders, role models are often friends, coaches, professors and others with whom we interact every day. These people are continually teaching us something new, good and bad. We can also learn from people we don’t know, like celebrities and athletes we see in the media, to develop an electronic relationship. But what happens when role models withhold information from us, or are prevented from sharing information with those who regard them highly? Does that do more than restrict the sources of information on important topics? Younger members of the current population are less active on political and social issues than prior generations. This may be the result of the treatment given to public role models who tried to send messages to those who looked up to them.

Smith and Carlos Statue

Smith and Carlos Statue

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were two very successful Olympians who protested against racism while accepting their medals on stage and during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympic Games. This act was heavily criticized by the general population and caused many problems for Smith and Carlos. Similar action by athletes have been minimal since then because lots of people would associate political actions by other outspoken athletes in the same light as Smith and Carlos. Public role models have tried to assist struggling parts of society in other ways, such as visiting hospitals, creating or participating in youth exercise programs, and rebuilding communities destroyed by natural disasters or political conflict. Don’t get me wrong, all of those efforts are admirable, necessary, and help raise awareness on important topics, but they aren’t controversial and not equivalent to supporting a minority viewpoint in a very public way. When it comes to political dissent, few speak out on big issues like war or sweatshop labor. All role models, even those aren’t well-known athletes, have the right to and should express themselves more freely, just because they can. Their specific opinions aren’t important, but our role models, especially if well known, must remember they’re setting an important example by demonstrating how to be an active member of society.

Political agency uses ideas and theories to influence actions by individuals or groups to achieve political goals. College students and other young adults are not sure if they can find their place in political activism. Criticism of public figure role models deters students and others from becoming political agents of change. For example, Steve Nash once wore a t-shirt to a press conference, which there was a strong anti-war message. His critics responded “just shut up and play,” implying that his views on social issues were unwanted. Surprisingly, the censoring comments came from others involved in pro sports. Nothing is ever going to change unless people take action. Yet when someone like Nash, an athlete and worldwide celebrity, tries to speak up about what he believes in and gets shot down for it, other athletes are going to be cautious of their actions. An example of why they don’t feel “safe” speaking out about issues is because “You get to the NFL and you’re just trying to get your head above water and float and survive in the NFL, let alone take on (serious political issues),” Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker who started advocating for marriage equality in 2009, said. “I started speaking out in 2009. I was in my 30s already. It’s so hard just to make it in the NFL, you’re not going to start talking politics and controversial things until you’re comfortable in your career.” And, even if you do, it becomes a distraction. Athletes minds have to be clear the minute they step onto a field.”  If Mill were asked his opinion, he wouldn’t think it was a big deal because it doesn’t violate his view on harm: “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.” Celebrities speaking out about views don’t harm others. In a way, it’s a celebrity’s job to both be good in their talents as well as be educated about society. They’re the ones that can influence change on the greater population. Their fans look up to them, and if they think certain laws are unjust, they should be able to speak up about them and be praised for it.

“Athletes are, obviously, human beings with opinions and causes and issues they care about, and unlike many “ordinary” people, they stand on a platform that gives them major influence in American culture. The relative rarity of the athlete who speaks publicly on major social, political, and cultural issues would only seem to add to the influence they can have when they do.”

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers is a great example of this. He got 2,000 people to attend a speech he gave on Congo and conflict materials, which is his newly started political cause. Only because Rodgers is so accomplished in his career that controversy was minimal as a result of this speech. Much of this crowd was probably fans and had no interest in hearing about his cause, rather solely interested in seeing him in person. Yet, that’s the point of the platform they stand on. Everyone that is a fan of Rodgers will listen, and thus this engages more conversation, more awareness, and more educated people. “I’ve been given a platform based on the success that we’ve had as a team and that I’ve had individually,” Rodgers told ThinkProgress after the event…“What am I going to do? I have a voice, I have an opportunity to tell people what I care about. And I care about this deeply, I care about making an impact in this world.”


John Stuart Mill

Values change every day because opinions and views of right and wrong are influenced by what we read, the things we hear, the people we talk to, and our role models.  Mill believes, “I am harmed if my ability to pursue my life as before is significantly curtailed.” Our elected officials, athletes, artists and celebrities have the ability to influence our views and inspire us to take action, yet their ability to do so is decreasing. The same way that the best athletes seem to get the best calls by referees and umpires, only those considered to be the best at what they do are able to speak openly, yet this is not appropriate. Athletes and other role models who are well informed, even if not the best at what they do, should not be restricted from showing us how to take action or speak out if the topic is important to them. Role models have the responsibility to speak to those who will listen. Perhaps we need to look at the way role models are measured; instead of labeling a good citizen by a stated viewpoint on a topic, their willingness to be politically and socially active, influencing change of any kind, is more important.



  1. mcarozza · December 6, 2014

    I agree that role models have the power to make change happen by making controversial statements. However, I wonder if this power could also be dangerous, there are a lot of athletes and celebrities whom we may view as role models, who may not actually be the best of citizens. Do you think they could have the power to sway people’s opinions the “wrong” way?
    I also agree with your point about redefining what a role model is. To be a role model perhaps they must do more than just talk about issues, they should make change happen!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jbaren · December 7, 2014

    mcarozza – I agree with you and that’s something I wanted to discuss however didn’t have enough space to talk about it as in depth as is needed…it may need a new blog post! However in short, what they speak out could be dangerous. Imagine if Steve Nash was anti gun control; I really wonder whether or not some of his fans would listen. A bigger question is how often these celebrities hear what their critics have to say. Agents and managers encourage their players to keep away from ESPN, Twitter and blogging sites because there’s also a lot of hatred towards them and it can discourage them from performing well on the field. If they were active in politics but didn’t read critiques, they may not know as quickly that what they are doing or saying is wrong.


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