So how does this work with ballplayers? First, we need the motivation to model their behavior. This isn’t difficult to figure out. They get to play a game, make tons of money doing it, and get all sorts of attention for doing it (and other things), and therefore, we’re motivated to model their behavior because we would love that life. Kids are especially impressionable because they haven’t developed the ability to critically analyze the actions of other people on their own. So, when kids see this guy they admire do something stupid, the idea is that they will do the same thing because that thing helps the athlete be what he is. This is, of course, where the line “correlation does not equal causation” comes into play, but children have a hard time seeing that distinction (most adults do for that matter). This is a problem, but one that can be overcome by realizing that athletes are not role models.
Role models are people that you look up to and admire (models, on the other hand, are just people with a skill you try to copy), and you want to be just like them. The thing is that no one is perfect, and there are always things you would do differently. For instance, I am student-teaching. I like the teacher I am with, and I think he does an excellent job. But there are still things that he does that I would not do within my own classroom. Now, I can make that distinction. I can critically judge what I take from him and what I won’t. Children have not fully developed this ability, and they need someone to help them make those judgments on who they want to be and how they need to act. But that responsibility does not lie with athletes.
First of all, we all have different notions of what we should be and how we should act. Those notions are somewhat arbitrary, and they are more opinion than fact. So, how can you tell an athlete what they should be when we can’t even agree on what they should be? Second, you can’t expect athletes to be perfect because we are not perfect. Expecting them to be angels is pretty much just ridiculous. Expecting them to follow the law isn’t ridiculous, but A) the law isn’t always an absolute moral truth and B) whether or not the athlete follows the law has nothing to do with anyone else. Third, high-profile incidents are excellent teaching points because, fourth, your children are YOUR responsibility, not theirs.
I understand that kids and teenagers look up to, admire, and respond to athletes, and I understand the idea of observational learning. BUT IT ISN’T A FATALISTIC PROCESS. Though they’ve learned, they can unlearn, or put in another way, they can learn that what the athlete did was wrong. Put in terms of Bandura’s theory, you need to show them the negative consequences that follow the player’s crime, but because the usual punishment (jail, fines, etc.) occurs so long after the incident which causes the punishment (because of the drawn-out trial system), the kids usually have trouble making the appropriate cause-effect connection on their own. What they see is Player A doing B (the crime) and still being able to play the sport for money. So, as their parents and/or family, it’s up to you to show them that what the athlete does is wrong and, most importantly, why it’s wrong. Don’t deflect the responsibility onto an athlete that has absolutely no connection to you. Explaining the transgression and its consequences is an excellent opportunity for children to learn “acceptable” behavior. Too often, we are afraid or unwilling to talk to children and teenagers about difficult topics, but they will never learn if you never talk to them.
Athletes do not have a responsibility to your children. You do. Athletes have responsibilities to their team, so when they do screw up, the only apology needs to be directed toward the organization. They don’t need to issue public apologies. The only apologies that need to be made are those to the people affected by the incident, and this is applicable to all those situations in which today’s athletes seem to throw out public apologies for whatever they do. Yes, you can criticize them for making a mistake, but you cannot criticize them because they let your children down. Because if you fail to make your children understand why what the athlete did was wrong, it is YOU that is letting your children down.