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Is It Time To Re-think How We View Athletes?

Kevin Mallory |
October 6, 2014 | 4:44 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Michael Phelps (Marco Paköeningra/Flickr)
Michael Phelps (Marco Paköeningra/Flickr)
With their preternatural physical talents and ubiquitous media presence, it is typical for athletes to be held in high regard and sometimes exalted to demigod status. But after a string of recent athlete transgressions, such as Lance Armstrong, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and most recently Michael Phelps—is it time to change the way we look at athletes?

To start, Charles Barkley made waves in a 1993 Nike ad by famously proclaiming that he was not a role model.

However, Daniel Durbin, director of the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society, says that it's not that simple.

"The one thing you can rely on with the human race is that they will always find a way to let you down," Durbin said. "The problem is the stories we create about athletes are not realistic and they construct an icon and a superpowered, superhero of the athlete."

We look at superstar athletes as infallible and when he or she does illustrate their humanity by committing errors, we are invariably shocked and disappointed. But should we be disappointed?

SEE ALSO: Ray Rice: Video Killed the Football Star

Robby Kolanz, a junior at USC, describes Kobe Bryant as his favorite athlete. While Kolanz was disappointed when Bryant was charged with rape in 2003, he realizes that the Lakers legend and other athletes are still people.

"You see them as these people who wouldn't do anything like that," Kolanz said. "When it happens it's a bummer, but it's something you have to realize as fans that they are humans. Some people make mistakes."

Yet, we often lose site of the fact that ahtletes will make human errors. Therefore, we are lost when we invest so much time and emotion into following athletes. Kolanz thinks that the emotional investment can trigger the avalanche of disappointment, criticism and scorn that follows when an athlete's conduct is unbecoming.

"When you invest so much time in somebody ... so much of your personal time you could be spending on other things and they disappoint you, it's a bummer," said Kolanz. "With athletes you spend so much time following them and studying their stats, and when they do something (tragic) it's a massive disappointment."  

While making mistakes is an existential part of being human, public figures, especially athletes and other celebrities, aren't always afforded that leeway and must be very careful in the manner in which they conduct themselves. In the constant 24 hour news cycle, Durbin believes it is imperative that athletes and their representatives take the necessary steps to protect their brands.

"Athletes and their agents have to recognize that they no longer are afforded any kind of private space." Durbin said. "Anything an athlete does, even in absolute privacy, if there's someone with a cell phone there, it's a public space."

Reach Staff Reporter Kevin Mallory here



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