Opinion: Disgraced Athletes Should Stop Playing The Kid Card

Filed under: Opinions

Quarterback Michael Vick is back in the NFL, where he played sparingly for the Philadelphia Eagles last season. Credit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Whenever a professional athlete screws up, one of the first things we hear is about how he wants to work with kids. But do we really want some of these people spending time with children?

This is a familiar trope for athletes who fall from grace -- working with kids. Because it's all about the children. After the pros screw up, at least.

Michael Vick, NFL quarterback, dog-fighting enthusiast and convicted felon, has a new reality show starting on BET this week. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Vick says he did the show, "because I felt that I can help save a lot of our kids by showing them what I went through. I want them to understand that you've got to start dreaming when you're young, but also you got to have a plan. You can't put yourself in vulnerable positions, you have to value every opportunity that you get in life."

Meaning what, exactly? That if you want to play professional football, getting caught running an illegal dog-fighting ring is a bad idea?

It's probably better for Vick to be around children than it is for him to be around dogs. But maybe he should stay away from both groups.

Former major league baseball player Mark McGwire recently admitted that he was using steroids when he hit 70 home runs in 1998.

When he testified before Congress in 2005, he admitted nothing, but he did say the following: "I appreciate the difficult job you have as congressmen and congresswomen and will use this opportunity to dedicate myself to this problem. I am directing my foundation to concentrate its efforts to educate children regarding dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. I am also offering to be spokesman for Major League Baseball and the Players Association to convince young athletes to avoid dangerous drugs of all sorts."

McGwire also has the Mark McGwire Foundation for Children, which, according to his Web site, is currently involved in the battle against bed wetting. (We're not touching that one.)

In 2009, Alex Rodriguez admitted that he had used steroids while playing professional baseball. Again, his first thought, once he got caught, was the children. In February 2009, A-Rod told ESPN's Peter Gammons that he was interested "in working with young children to help educate them about the dangers of steroid use," according to MLB.com. In the same interview, he also said, "I want to do things to influence children ... I have nine years to bring this message to children."

What message is that? That cheating doesn't work? Because in your case, Mr. Rod, it did. So what kind of "message" is that?

Rodriguez not only used steroids, but he also cheated on his wife (allegedly, but there were photos of A-Rod and a blonde that he wasn't married to). And before his dog-fighting conviction, Vick flipped the bird to fans when they upset him after a game.



But, please. By all means. Let's get these guys together with some kids.

This is not to say that Vick shouldn't be allowed to play professional football. The NFL has a number of players who committed serious crimes and came back to the league.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis spent four months in prison on drug charges. His teammate, Ray Lewis, was arrested for murder along with two other men. Ray Lewis eventually plead guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for testimony against the other men charged, receiving one year probation and a $250,000 fine from the NFL. (He also wasn't allowed to say "I'm going to Disney World" when he was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXV. Wah.) Both men played this past season.

Athletes who commit crimes are certainly entitled to attempt a comeback in professional sports.This is true of anyone who commits a crime and is punished, no matter what his or her profession may be. But why is the first thought "get me some kids to talk to?"

Over at the sports blog Deadspin, Tommy Craggs writes, "Do we really have to drag The Children into this again? Must every scary development in American life be filtered through the eyes of The Children?"

Personally, I don't think the steroid issue is nearly as big a deal as pundits make it out to be, and I agree that "OMG! What about The Children?" is thrown into the punditry mix far too often. But The Children are getting it from both sides. There are the tongue-clucking pundits who bemoan the effect that news of famous athletes messing up has on the youth of today. And then there are the athletes themselves, who immediately reach for the kids as soon as they get caught doing something they shouldn't be doing.

Basketball player Gilbert Arenas was suspended indefinitely by the NBA for bringing an illegal handgun into the Washington Wizards' locker room. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Arenas said that from now on he wants to "help guide children into brighter futures." (To be fair, Arenas does sound more contrite than other athletes who screwed up.) An article from the UPI had an inadvertently honest headline: "Suspended Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said he will deliver a message of non-violence to young fans in an effort to rebuild his reputation."

This isn't about The Children. This is about The Athlete.

Is it wrong for athletes who screw up, no matter what the offense, to try and make amends by doing some good for the world? Of course not. But can't they think of something to do that doesn't involve kids?

When the A-Rod story broke, Michael Kruse of the St. Petersburg Times asked Little Leaguers about the news. One of the kids said, "If you take steroids, you'll become mean, and you'll disrespect your friends or something. I learned that from my dad."

From his dad. Not from A-Rod. Let the athletes play ball. We'll take care of the parenting.

Related: Anabolic Steroid Abuse

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.