Celebrities, athletes often fail as positive role models

  • Follow Your Faith

Being a role model is as important as being an athlete for Seattle Seahawks safety Deon Grant .


"I carry myself in a positive way because I know the effect it can have on kids," said the T.W. Josey High School and University of Tennessee graduate. "I know the influence people I looked up to had on me."


Athletes, musicians, socialites and other celebrities are publicly messing up: Michael Vick and his off-the-field fumbles; Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and their constant run-ins with the law ; rapper T.I. and his arrest two weeks ago on charges of illegally seeking to buy weapons. Some celebrities, however, including Mr. Grant, are mindful that children are watching what they say and do .


KRS-One, a pioneer of hip-hop , said he is honored that people look up to him. In 1989, he released his rap song Self Destruction and launched his Stop the Violence campaign to unite rappers and urge them to be positive examples.


Recently, he relaunched the campaign.


"I am a role model, and if I don't step up or stand up for issues that are important to the people, then I take just as much blame as a 50 Cent or a Snoop Dogg," KRS-One said in a telephone interview. "For these guys to change their lyrics and call themselves role models, it takes a certain amount of maturity."


Children are watching and listening.


Sasha Orel, 10, said her new role model is singer Avril Lavigne "because she's good and doesn't get into trouble and she's married." Sasha no longer likes stars who "are bad, have been to jail and do drugs," she said.


"I used to like Britney Spears when I was younger," said the Warren Road Elementary School fifth-grader. "I mean, she shaved her head, for Pete's sake. What's wrong with her?"


As much as he hears rappers talk about drugs and violence, Shariffe Breeland , 13, doesn't believe they are trying to be role models. Still, the Schofield Middle School eighth-grader said he knows that they are role models to many young people.


"Because, if it wasn't for them, a lot of people wouldn't dress the way they dress," said Shariffe, who plays cornerback for a recreational football team in Aiken.


As for T.I.'s arrest, Shariffe simply "thought he was dumb," but the youngster said he wasn't affected by it. Role models to him are athletes "because they worked hard and did something positive" to be successful. People he looks up to include a peer who makes good grades and is good at football, and Devin Hester, a Chicago Bears wide receiver who "does not get into trouble."

Pat Graham, a professor of sociology at Augusta State University, said many of her students cite their parents as role models. She said, however, that it is understandable that young people are influenced by celebrities "because they're so much in the public eye with being on TV, newspaper, the Internet."


Still, she said, people admiring stars have to take some responsibility and should consider the values of a person they consider a role model.
Parental guidance is important.


"A lot of time, parents can help by being there, by listening to the kids, by being available," the professor said. "And by showing what to do. A lot of time it's not so much what they say, but how they live, living by example."


James Quarles, the athletic director at Glenn Hills High School, coached high school football for 26 years. He said that for every athlete who gets into trouble, there are hundreds more doing great things, so he sees why children look up to sports figures.


"Not only do they do well financially, they are attaining good health and they're providing entertainment - why wouldn't someone want to be like them? Especially if they're humble. Those are the guys I idolized growing up," he said. "We're talking that golden smile like Tiger Woods, who's good in and out of the game. If you can imitate and do that, then you can become the same way."


It is their duty to be role models, Mr. Quarles said.


"By all means - in order to keep the big jobs, they've got to be model citizens. They owe that to all the people paying big money to see them," he said.

Mr. Grant said that when he was growing up in Southside Terrace public housing, he and his peers looked up to the drug dealers there "because they had, not everything I needed, but everything I wanted."


He remembers how easy it was for him to head down the wrong path based on following the people he admired, but he thought of the consequences and straightened up his act, he said.


That's why it's important for him to return to the area regularly in his offseason to be a visible force to children and to be a stellar citizen on and off the field.


"What are you losing by bringing somebody else up?" Mr. Grant said. "Before I went off to college and had scholarships, we didn't see that coming through that project. But ever since I went and I wasn't making the negative media and gave the guys hope, we've had guys and females coming out of the projects getting scholarships - and athletic scholarships .


"If you really want to build your community ... that's how you keep (it) strong - by bringing somebody else up, letting them see you as a positive example. By you taking that responsibility in your hand, that speaks a lot about you, that really makes you the man or the woman you claim to be."


Being a good role model and not messing up your family's name is a necessary, responsible part of life, regardless of who the person is, Mr. Grant said.


"Just life - period - is a responsibility, so you being a role model is not an extra responsibility; it's just you living your life the way it's supposed to be lived," he said. "I don't look at it as an extra responsibility. I just do the things that I'm supposed to do that's going to make me a better man ... "

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.

SURVEY SAYS ...

According to an informal, unscientific survey of pupils at Jenkins-White Elementary School and at Episcopal Day School, the actions of celebrities have an impact. It showed that 44 percent of 80 fifth-graders surveyed felt sad when one of their heroes got in trouble, and 35 percent felt mad. Of 34 eighth-graders surveyed at Episcopal Day School, half were saddened when a role model got into trouble, while 18 percent felt mad.


Role models cited by students in the survey include d their parents, family members and pastors, activists, musicians and athletes. God, Jesus and teachers also made the list.


One 10-year-old wrote: "Celebrities should act good in public because everyone will see you."


Another 10-year-old wrote: "When people look up to good people, it is OK, but when people look up to bad people, it can create more bad people."


Role Model Survey


A survey of 80 fifth-graders from Episcopal Day School and Jenkins-White Elementary School revealed the following:


1. Do you think famous people are role models?


Yes, 40 percent; No, 10 percent; Some are, 50 percent


2. Should famous people be role models?


Yes, 62.5 percent; No, 17.5 percent; Sometimes, 20 percent


3. When famous people you look up to get into trouble, you feel:


Sad, 43.75 percent; Mad, 35 percent; The same way as before, 11.25 percent; Don't care, 8.75 percent; No answer, 1.25 percent

A survey of 34 eighth-graders from Episcopal Day School revealed the following:


1. Do you think famous people are role models?


Yes, 68 percent; No, 3 percent; Some are, 29 percent


2. Should famous people be role models?


Yes, 68 percent; No, 0 percent; Sometimes, 32 percent


3. When famous people you look up to get into trouble, you feel:


Sad, 50 percent; Mad, 18 percent; The same way as before, 3 percent; Don't care, 29 percent


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