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Sports Has An Image Problem [OPINION]

Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez
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One afternoon a kid sat at Wrigley Field in Chicago on the third base line above the Cubs dugout. He wore a Cubs hat, his Sammy Sosa t-shirt, and his baseball glove on his left hand. He was ready to watch his childhood baseball hero, “Slammin” Sammy Sosa. It was one of the coolest moments of his life when he saw Sosa run out of the dugout and into right field that afternoon at Wrigley Field. Today he won’t forget watching Sosa, but it’s difficult to think that his childhood baseball hero used performance-enhancing drugs to smash home runs over the ivy at Wrigley Field.

That person was me, and today, there has to be other adults, and kids that loved Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, or now athletes such as Ryan Braun.

In 2013, moments like mine as a child have been frequent. Sports have been a year to remember, and to forget. Alabama won back-to-back BCS National Championships, Ray Lewis retired with a Super Bowl ring, LeBron James won another title and MVP, and the Chicago Blackhawks scored two goals in 17 seconds to win the Stanley Cup.

However, no matter how much sports have shown moments to remember this year, there are moments to forget and learn from. So far in 2013, executives, coaches, teams, programs, and players have learned they are not invincible from the law as every week it seems like someone from either the collegiate or professional level is either being arrested, suspended, or being kicked off the team.

Let’s take a closer look.

In 2013, it all started when former Notre Dame linebacker admitted to Katie Couric that he briefly lied to the media and the public after his online girlfriend didn’t exist, and was part of a hoax. Then, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong admitted he cheated, lied, and doped using performance-enhancing drugs. Next, during the NFL offseason, there have been 33 players (via NFL Arrests Database) that have been arrested, including Aaron Hernandez alleged murder charges, or multiple NFL players and executives getting arrested for drunken driving. In fact, yesterday, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller found out he could face a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, even though he said, “I did nothing wrong.” Meanwhile in baseball, the constant speculation of performance-enhancing drugs took the stage again on Monday as Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs, and was suspended 65 games after saying he was innocent in the spring of 2012, and winning the National League MVP in 2011.

Whereas professional sports have an image problem, collegiate sports have shown their not invincible, either.
Earlier in the year, Rutgers fired men’s basketball coach Mike Rice for verbally abusing his players, and on Monday, Ohio State suspended senior running back Carlos Hyde, who is a person of interest in the investigation of an assault against a woman in a bar in Columbus, Ohio.

Every year, athletes get arrested, suspended, or kicked off teams, but it seems like in 2013, it is happening more often. As a result, sports need to take a look at what image they are sending because right now in 2013 because they are sending the wrong image to its fans, parents, and young kids/athletes.

Commissioners in these professional or collegiate leagues/conferences, such as the NFL, or MLB, or the NCAA, should be worried. For example, if a collegiate institution is known for players that are constantly getting arrested numerous times, parents may be the deciding factor for a child. From a professional sports standpoint, kids look to emulate professional athletes from their backyard to their high school gym. Athletes have to learn to be smart.

When it’s all said and done, Justin Tuck of the New York Giants said it perfectly in the New York Daily Times earlier this month when talking about the NFL’s image problem. “I think you always worry about the image of the NFL. But the only way I can control that is the things that I do. I can’t control what other people do. I can only control what image is Justin Tuck and the New York Giants…all I can do is control what Justin Tuck does and help the younger guys understand that hey, they’re role models and they have to watch how they act.”

Tuck gets it. He controls his own image, and it’s part of his job to help other athletes, especially rookies find out that they are role models. Other athletes should take notice of Tuck.

Collegiate and professional athletes have to realize that if they decide to lie, cheat, or break the law, they are not only affecting their own lives and reputations, but the lives of young children, athletes, and their fans. That’s the realization athletes must come across, as they have jobs and free time, like the average Joe. Athletes have to learn to find out what they prioritize and how to balance their priorities. Obviously their job should be their top focus, but their family, and developing healthy hobbies should be goals that they would want to have. After all, an athlete that has received a college scholarship or an opportunity to play professionally has worked hard, and why would they want to throw it all away and waste it?

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