Are Athletes Role Models?

Story written by EPelle

Did you ever look up to an athlete as you grew up, that is to say a person whom you idolised for their contributions to this sport? Have you ever been influenced positively or negatively by what that athlete - or those athletes - did off the field?

My idol was Saïd Aouita, as he was in the business of winning Olympic and World Championship medals and setting world records when athletics was most interesting to me: once upon a time as a teen.

Aouita was all things I wasn't, and everything I desired to be: swift, fast, famous and versatile.

I looked up to Aouita until I finally had my own teen groupies following every step I took, every workout I ran, every extra-curricular course I studied, and every book I read.

I realised how fragile that glass house really is when mis-stepping along the way, and seeing one of those fans, my sister, find another hero to worship.

Aouita never took any wrong turns, nor did he throw me off course during the four years his results were planted in my scrapbook, his photos cut from magasines and he kept on winning, winning and winning.

A guy named Noureddine Morceli took over the chores after Aouita, and he in turn was replaced by Hicham El Guerrouj.

I don't recall the day I stopped caring what these guys did off the field. I am not really sure I ever knew in the first place; the internet hadn't connected me to cyberworld during those years.

Justin Gatlin has been caught up in a quagmire - a doping scandal which stinks of corruption, lies and blind accusations made by his coach, Trevor Graham.

Gatlin's doping hearing should begin in the next four to six weeks, and his fate should be decided soon thereafter. He has his own bed in which to lie, and whatever entanglement he has been caught in seems to be his own doing. The IAAF have a strict liability rule when it pertains to doping cases, meaning that athletes are completely responsible for whatever is applied to their skins, whatever they eat, drink, inhale or inject.

Today's blog entry isn't a question of whether or not Gatlin is innocent, rather a question of whether Gatlin should coach high schoolers before his own fate is set.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Gatlin will be a volunteer coach at his high school this spring, the final six months of the school's existance.

"At this point, his future is uncertain but it could resolved in the next year or so," Woodham AD Paul Bryan told The Associated Press. "In the meantime, we're in the last six months of this school's existence, and he has got the opportunity and time to spend a little more time with these kids."

Should Gatlin, who is likely to have a tremendous amount of influence on 14- to 18-year-old kids, step into a role where he is admired, trusted, respected and influential when his doping status is not yet cleared?

I've read debate by hard-core, die-hard fans of the sport on the subject of Gatlin leading high schoolers - debate by folks with very generous amounts of forgiveness available to people like Gerry Lindgren, Seb Coe, Marion Jones, Angelo Taylor, Amy Acuff and Kelli White to name a few. These writers, located in America and Europe, appear to demonstrate a starker shunning of Gatlin than I would have imagined from them.

Lindgren was a purported bad man, bad father and bad husband. His listed failures at manhood have nothing to do with my appreciation for his abilities and acomplishments.

Coe is said to have had encounters outside of the marriage one could deem inappropriate. Again, what he does behind the scenes has no bearing on his gold medals or his world records.

Jones has had relationships with two former lovers who have been snarled in drugs scandals which thwarted their careers. She has been implicated as a drugs user by her former husband, C.J. Hunter, and was indirectly implicated by the father of her baby, Tim Montgomery, when he spoke on record in private proceedings regarding Chryste Gaines and BALCO.

Taylor was arrested for having sex with a teenager in his SUV. Had he decided to coach teens, I'd have raised a red flag. His judgment is clouded, despite his having stated he believed the minor was older than her actual age.

Acuff has continued fighting for championship medals in the Olympics and on the world scene, and has kept her nose out of major scandal. She has posed virtually nude in FHM and Playboy magasines, but has not been known to have encouraged teens to follow suit. Kajsa Bergqvist and Carolina Klüft have spoken out against posing sexually for any magasine, but the question is of moral character, not whether or not an athlete can be trusted.

White did prejudicely and willfully take performance-enhancing drugs, and since left the sport. She made a conscious effort to speak out about the performance-enhancing drugs epidemic in BALCO, and helped the United States Senate enact tougher steroids laws.

Gatlin falls into a category similar to Regina Jacobs and Remi Korchemny, insofar as each has been linked to drugs and coaching - albeit Gatlin is attempting to coach.

I believe Gatlin should keep away from the spotlight until his case clears, because he's in a "do as I say, but not at I do!" position at this point - a time when his future career in the sport as an athlete is directly proportional to any deliberate ties he had with his offense. Teens - young adults (or overgrown children) - are influenced by coaches, and having Gatlin volonteer time in any direct capacity with the school kids can have a negative impact on them.

White stated before the Senate that she felt betrayed by Korchemny, a person who had coached her in high school, and who coached her after her college graduation and move back to the San Francisco-Bay Area. She stated she had been offered drugs at one point in time, but had passed up the offer. She broke down and took drugs once she was injured and could not regain her form. I would sincerely hope Gatlin never finds himself in a similar position as Korchemny.

If Gatlin is subsequently cleared of the gross accusation against him, that he is a doped athlete, and he is exonerated with a special circumstances warning, he can then volunteer time to his alma mater, Woodham High School in Pensacola, FL. It will be then, and only then - when kids see Gatlin accept his fate as an adult - that the greater lesson will be learned.

In the meantime, I wish Gatlin the best as he takes one step at a time toward clearing his name.

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