Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's off-season behavior has raised questions about the appropriateness of using athletes as role models. Athletes work hard and stay fit, but that may not be enough to influence children for good. Too often, the dark side of athletes -- the steroid use, hard partying lifestyle and poor sportsmanship -- overshadows an athlete's ability to play the game. Before you urge your child to take after his favorite ball player, consider the pros and cons of the influence that athlete can have on your child and his life.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation provided clear answers as to how a professional athlete's sportsmanship was perceived by kids. Seventy four percent say it's common for a pro athlete to yell at a referee; 62 percent say that trash talking opponents is the norm; and 46 percent say it's not uncommon for athletes to take cheap shots at opponents. The same children agreed that it wasn't uncommon to see those same behaviors while playing sports among their peers. A spoiled-athlete mentality may teach children that it's OK to yell and fight to get what they want.
Athletes do teach children about the hard work that it takes to become the best at a given sport. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that almost 20 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are considered obese. This is due in part to sedentary, video game lifestyles. By looking up to their favorite athletes, children may be more inspired to hit the court, get outside and play to stay active. This can translate to an impeccable work ethic and a higher degree of fitness on and off the field.
It's no secret that some professional athletes use performance-enhancing drugs in order to get the edge on their opponents, and that can inadvertently affect the children who look up to them. The suspensions of New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez and a number of other baseball players for the use of banned performance-enhancing substances reflect the ongoing problem. After Mark McGuire admitted to setting the record for single season home runs in 1998 while on the steroid substitute androstenedione, sales increased 1,000 percent, according to "USA Today." Steroid and supplement use by professional athletes sends the message to children that it's OK to cheat as long as you're the best.
The lifestyle that athletes lead, depending on the athlete, can have a mixed effect on children. Some athletes work hard, provide for their families and participate in charity work for the community. Others concentrate on making money, living the high life and getting endorsement deals. The trick to finding an athlete role model for your child is to find one that you'd like your own child to be like when she becomes an adult. The athlete lifestyle can be fulfilling and happy or indulgent and ridden with scandal. Choose the one you'd like your own child to emulate.