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The Myth of Sporting Role Models

Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius, Ryan Giggs. The list of former role models that have seen their star fall in recent years is ever growing. Whether through a string of adulterous relationships (Woods and Giggs), drugs (Lance Armstrong) or the premeditated murder charge (Pistorius), those sportsmen that were once held up as the ideal role models have now fallen by the wayside.

Each of these role models was built up by the publicity companies and by the media. Tiger Woods was billed as the ultimate professional – controlled, ultra-focussed and a true family man – and an inspiration to the black community in what was still generally viewed as a white-man’s game. Lance Armstrong was the man who overcame cancer to become the most successful cyclist in the history of the sport with seven Tour de France titles. Oscar Pistorius was the double amputee that had become the dominant sprinter of his generation and the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympic Games. Ryan Giggs was long seen as one of the most respected players in football – his dedication to maintaining his level and fitness was an inspiration to many – and was seen as an excellent family man, immune to the temptations of celebrity.

Lance Armstrong recently revealed that he had been doping almost his entire career

Great athletes do not generally make great role models. Even disregarding the recent scandals, that should be obvious to the majority. However, the recent examples have demonstrated how the publicity and media machine has built up these seemingly perfect role models, leaving their flaws hidden in the background. In the modern age of technology, as sport has become more and more of a global phenomenon, this fantasy has grown to astonishing proportions.

“My story can be an inspiration to all those that have experienced a similar problem.” With one or two tweaks, this simple statement could be applied to virtually every sporting role model that the machine has created over the past decade. Woods and the colour of his skin, Armstrong and cancer, Pistorius and his disability, Messi and his growth hormone deficiency. The list is virtually endless.

The myth of these sportsmen being the perfect role models continues to grow and become more and more pervasive into everyday life. However, the sportsmen that have become the subjects of these myths are finding it harder and harder to live up to what they have supposedly become.

The seeming need to turn to drugs in many sports to reach the pinnacle is still an issue (despite the repeated claims of many sports) and the temptations that come with celebrity, particularly given the almost limitless opportunities for adultery.

Tiger Woods was introduced to golf before he was even 2-years old

Furthermore, many of these sportsmen have been groomed from an incredibly young age to reach stardom. As a result, many of them are entirely unprepared for adult life. They have grown up in the public spotlight, receiving everything that they have ever wanted, having virtually every decision made for them by the army of publicists and agents that swarm around even the merest hint of celebrity.

They are simply not used to people not saying yes to them. This means that they can often struggle in difficult personal situations, where they have to make decisions themselves and where they may not always get their own way.

Maybe it is time for the machine to stop building up these tainted role models to unachievable levels? Not that it will happen though. The likes of Woods, Pistorius and Armstrong may have fallen from their perches, but it is only a matter of time until the next generation of role models take their place and must live up to impossible standards.

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