We all need a role model in our lives. We need someone to look up to for guidance, to act as a mentor, or to reflect a social conscience. Now more than ever.
Political Role Models
Growing up in the 1970s, I looked for a role model who could inspire me to greater things. The political realm was struggling through the Watergate fiasco, yet it was this attention to the legal process that got me interested in politics. As we prepared to celebrate our bicentennial , I found a new sense of patriotism that had been lost during the Nixon/Vietnam era.
My interest in politics gave me several people I admired. I grew up hearing about JFK and FDR. I looked up to RFK. However, each of these men came from an upper-class background, so I found it difficult to see them as role models.
It wasn’t until Barack Obama that I saw a political role model. Having a humble background and working hard to elevate himself to the highest office in the land, I greatly admire his spirit and dedication. As much as I speak in public, I still am uncomfortable. So, I am in awe at his eloquence and ease in front of a crowd.
This is why he makes an excellent role model for today’s youth.
Pro Sports Role Models
Many young people see their role models in the sporting world. They see themselves making the game winning touchdown, that awesome slam dunk or the home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
I, too, had my sports role models. For me, it was about something as odd as hair color. Growing up with shocking red hair, I was delighted when the Mets brought up a spunky third baseman with red hair named Wayne Garrett. Although he was only a utility infielder, he was still a part of the Miracle Mets in 1969. I imagined myself becoming a professional baseball player. When Le Grande Orange, Rusty Staub, so named for his shock of red hair, was integral in the Mets 1973 World Series appearance, I was hooked.
I truly saw myself as being a part of a professional baseball team. Two things prevented this. I couldn’t hit and I couldn’t field. Other than that, I was a perfect fit!
Nevertheless, I began rooting for the underdog team and haven’t stopped since. And while MY team has experienced its ups and downs, I still stick with them. Growing up before the internet, I had to rely on box scores to get my news. Indeed, my first real job as a newspaper carrier was partly because I wanted to be able to see them first.
Sports figures indeed have a strong influence on people, especially young people. So, when a prominent athlete does something extraordinary, they take notice. Indeed, most young people are more likely to be aware of an athletic event than they are to be interested in anything educational.
Social Role Models
Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, I was keenly aware of the importance of ensuring that minorities had equal representation under the law. Hearing the speeches of Martin Luther King, watching the plight of those attacked during the Children's Crusade, and the abuse endured by those who marched from Selma to Montgomery, I became aware of my own social conscience.
This awareness was reawakened with the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Young and old alike took to the streets in the midst of a pandemic to protest police brutality. It is a movement that continues to cause repercussions across a wide range of the social spectrum.
This newly ignited social awareness will have many looking for a role model to lead them, or they may become a role model to others.
It’s All Connected
On September 1st 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took to one knee during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality against minorities. He did this after a prior attempt to remain seated as a form of protest failed to draw the necessary attention. And he certainly got attention after this! People around the nation became aware of this gesture and began asking questions.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump, ever the showman, took this gesture as a means to further polarize the nation by claiming Kapenick’s gesture was about disrespect for the American flag rather than racism. Trump supporters quickly picked up on this and completely ignored the message Kapernick, and by then many others, sought to bring to the public’s attention.
And so, police brutality continued. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others continued to suffer, and even die, at the hands of some out-of-control members of law enforcement. When athletes took to one knee, they were threatened with punishment, which could include being sat for a game up to, in Kapernick’s case, being blackballed by the NFL.
This is why it is so important that our youth understand precisely why so many of these athletes have decided to kneel on one knee when the national anthem is played. They want to emulate these pro sports figures, so the message they send is a vital one, and does not deserve the distortion that those on the right are attempting to portray.
Seeing a political advantage with his base, Trump urged owners to “Get that son of a bitch off the field.” if they joined in the protests.
Owners, fearing a backlash from fans, took steps to prevent this, thus effectively silencing those voice that were attempting to call attention to a serious issue.
The coronavirus pandemic led to the shutdown of professional sports. This coincided with the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement as protestors took up the mantle that Kapernick tried to bring to the forefront.
When professional sports teams resumed their play, many took to one knee in support of a resurgence of the BLM movement.
Why is this important?
As I stated earlier, many of my role models of my youth were professional athletes. This has not changed with our current younger population. These are their role models. If these athletes can succeed where Kapernick failed, they can ignite increased attention on this vitally important issue and lead to a change that cannot be drowned out by political rhetoric.
We need these role models now more than ever!