Athletes refusing vaccine, among other offenses, prove they are questionable role models


Professional athletes continue to remind us that they are not moral standard bearers or public health aficionados, so why are we still so easily fooled by them? This raises the question: are athletes role models?

The answer (drum roll please): no and no.

Athletes are humans who make mistakes

In 1993, Charles barkley caused a stir when he suggested that athletes shouldn’t be seen as role models in an iconic Nike ad campaign. “Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should be raising your kids,” said the former NBA All Star. At the time, his comments had elicited mixed reactions, but the idea put forward by the now reckless TNT analyst and former basketball player now seems more prophetic than ever.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen a number of NFL stars find themselves embroiled in controversies involving poor judgment and drug addiction. Former Las Vegas Raider wide receiver Henri Ruggs III was involved in a car accident that left a 23-year-old woman and her dog dead. Prosecutors said the former University of Alabama star drove 156 mph, with a loaded handgun in the back seat, and had a blood alcohol level above double the legal limit.

Former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III walks the field during warm-ups ahead of last month’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Allegiant Stadium in Vegas. (Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a now unclosed anti-vaccine and one of the country’s most recognizable athletes, deliberately lied to reporters about his immunization status, knowingly violating team health and safety protocols by not wearing a mask around reporters (and possibly teammates and staff), choosing to endanger them to avoid the shame of being labeled as unvaccinated.

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When asked why he hadn’t been vaccinated, Rodgers said he was allergic to the ingredients in the vaccine, but he didn’t stop there. The quarterback was so concerned about the credibility of his story that he went on to question the effectiveness of highly effective vaccines, cough up misinformation, target the ‘awakened’ cancellation culture, and praised his anti-vaxxer colleague and podcast host. Joe rogan, which promoted the scientifically unproven use of ivermectin, a form of tranquilizer for horses. Unlike Rodgers, Rogan was honest about his position from the start.

Last month, the San Jose Sharks forward Evander kane was suspended 21 games by the NHL for providing a fake COVID-19 vaccination card, joining Kyrie Irving in the fraternity of star athletes willing to give up millions of dollars to defend their faith.

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Brooklyn Nets goalie Kyrie Irving handles the ball during an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas this Thursday, May 6, 2021, file photo. (AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez)

The mere fact that a cowardly, narcissistic football thrower thinks he is smarter than all the scientists and medical professionals in the world is problematic and reflects a much larger societal problem. Fans and the media are complicit in promoting a system that encourages bad behavior and exaggerated self-esteem in athletes.

We give these young celebrities millions of dollars and publicity and then we put a microphone in their face and ask them to comment on just about everything. These young men and women are unfortunately not qualified to provide general advice, let alone public health advice. By putting them on a divine pedestal, we interpret their athletic prowess for social, political and academic acuity.

If our favorite athletes hold beliefs similar to ours, we salute them as heroes. If they have beliefs that disagree with ours, we despise them and call them selfish. Regardless of the side, you are almost never surprised by the behavior of an athlete.

A common theme emerges: top performing athletes walk to the beat of their own drums, in part because we encourage them to do so by idolizing them. By removing the human element from our assessment of athletes and treating them as a kind of caricature of our expectations, we open the door to disappointment and the spread of misinformation.

Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals
Aaron Rodgers

Although we are normal humans like you or me, we the fans demand too much from our athletes. We expect them to be above reproach – to show grace that they win or lose, and to speak out eloquently on social issues far beyond the boundaries of sport and entertainment. before and after the matches. When they disappoint us, we overly criticize or overlook their mistakes based on the extent to which their transgressions violate our personal moral code.

The danger of elating celebrities

It’s easy to mistake athletes for role models, as the media has turned the sport into a male dominated reality show. The athletes are the protagonists and the owners of Lily White are the antagonists. TV and social media are turning game prep into a soap opera that makes those numbers very marketable. The media exploit our insatiable appetite for entertainment, making us ask more of our athletes than we should.

In a world where people like Rodgers are praised for their intellectual insight, based on his ability to dissect a defense and read questions about Danger, we need to re-evaluate why we consider people like him to be a better source of truth than more informed people like doctors and scientists. It’s a reasonable expectation for those who reach the pinnacle of the sports world to be honest and honorable citizens, but we have to recognize that they will be wrong more often than not, especially as we remove more layers and find out. their real self.

When we put athletes on a pedestal and inflate their importance, we ignore the evidence that they are incompatible with our moral compass. We find reasons to justify their poor decision-making, their lack of expertise and their outright hypocrisy; and minimize the years of hard work by real subject matter experts.

Evander kane
Evander Kane # 9 of the San Jose Sharks warms up during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on March 27, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

By equating athletic achievement with infallibility and transcendent heroism, we plant in the minds of successful athletes the idea that they are somehow wiser than the experts, blameless and above the rules. everyone must respect.

Exalting athletes as heroes and role models dehumanizes them and increases the likelihood that we will ignore anything that casts a negative light on them. In this world where athletes are also asked to be militant sports models, we sometimes forget that they are humans who must be reminded of the extent of their exposure and of their influence.

It doesn’t matter whether a professional athlete wants to be a role model or not. The company only asks these influencers to keep the low bar of being an honest and good human being.

While athletes should be applauded for their accomplishments and their work ethic, they should not be used as a moral compass. In a world where people are bombarded with content, and therefore easily swayed by the court of public opinion, we have a responsibility to demand that our athletes refrain from fooling people and leave the little details behind, especially when it comes to health, to those who know better.

The value of expert advice

In building our own sports narrative, we sometimes forget that athletes are fallible creatures, who put a lifetime of work, and often their physical and mental health, on the line for our amusement. Asking for a higher level of righteousness and wisdom than we demand of one another is unfair and disappointing.

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Brooklyn net point guard Kyrie Irving. (Photo by Sarah Stier / Getty Images)
Evander kane

We need to reconsider the value we place on athletes’ health opinions and accept that when it comes to health, not all opinions are created equal.

You wouldn’t let a plumber do open heart surgery because blood flows through veins and arteries like water in pipes. Yes, some athletes may have a basic understanding of science or have friends in the field with whom they can share ideas, but their level of expertise falls far short of the information needed to provide medical advice.

Science is far from intuitive. Its practical application goes beyond a basic understanding of the body, which is why it requires years of continuous learning, understanding and practice. When we take inspiration from athletes, we undermine years of hard work by health and public health professionals.

Athletes play an important role in society. We want our kids to train like Rodgers, speak out against social injustices like Irving, and be as positive as Kane, but under no circumstances should we take our health advice from them, or any athlete.


Dr Shamard Charles is Assistant Professor of Public Health and Health Promotion at St. Francis College and sits on the Dot Dash / VeryWell Health Anti-Bias Review Board. He is also the host of the health podcast, Heart Over Hype. He received his MD from Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University and his Masters in Public Health from TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard. Previously, he spent three years as a senior health reporter for NBC News and was a Global Press Fellow for the United Nations Foundation. You can follow him on Instagram @askdrcharles or Twitter @DrCharles_NBC.

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