Athletes as Role Models: Can Sports Stars Really Influence Positive Change?

For many, sports merely mean competitive games and an effective way to stay in shape. Likewise, the athletes we know and love are simply the professionals that make up this widely practiced and followed form of entertainment. Upon closer inspection, though, these stars have the ability to affect social issues in powerful ways, thus allowing us to rightfully recognize athletes as role models.

From Bob Cousy to Jason Collins, many athletes have made their voices heard on prominent issues in our society, confronting problems ranging from racism to sexual orientation. Rather than dwelling on these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, these stars have used their fame to stand up to discrimination head on.

What lessons have these professionals learned from their sport of choice that puts them in position to be figureheads and inspire fervor around an issue? That intrinsic motivation to make a difference comes from powerful traits that effectively position athletes as role models.

Pushing Past Failure

We generally misconstrue what failure actually entails. Rather than treating it as an absolute setback, we must learn to recognize it as a building block that ultimately helps us achieve our goals and dreams.

Many retired athletes and current stars have achieved excellence by harnessing the lessons their failures teach. Prior to the Red Sox’s 2004 championship, for example, the team had played relentlessly for decades despite not taking home the big prize. This perpetual perseverance, along with fans’ admirable loyalty, eventually led the Red Sox to go on a decade-long run of success.

Competing With Respect

I distinctively remember when Meghan Vogel, a runner for Ohio’s West Liberty-Salem High School, unthinkingly helped struggling competitor Arden McMath cross the finish line of a championship race. What followed was a world of cheers, tears, and support from fans and strangers alike, prompting major news outlets to recognize the young athlete for her sportsmanship.

Vogel demonstrated that, no matter with whom or for what you’re competing, a selfless act of human kindness goes a very long way. She is a competitor that leads by example and shows that athletes of any age can have a memorable, long-lasting social impact.

Working Together as a Team

Sports stars know the value of working together to achieve a common goal. This resonates strongly with any group activity, inside and outside of sports. Perhaps Matthew Uohara, president of Hale Inu Strength and Conditioning, said it best in an interview with Men’s Fitness: “In our weight room, there is no negative talk, no putting people down, and respect for all.” Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can have a powerful affect, and this is well represented by the role models we have had the opportunity to know and learn from throughout the years.

Michael Sam’s sexual orientation, Caitlyn Jenner’s fearless transformation, and many other acts have shown us that athletes and sports can bring people together. Are these heroes in a position to improve social issues and fight for positive change in the world? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

Image source: Flickr