“I’m not a role model.”
Hard to believe it, but it’s been 20 years since Charles Barkley spoke those notorious words in a Nike commercial. And yet they’re still every bit as provocative now as they were then.
Barkley’s words sparked a debate that rages on as to whether athletes, actors, musicians, politicians, and other public figures have an obligation to serves as role models. As a player, Barkley was frequently involved in fights, both on and off the court, and has always been a lightning rod for controversy. Now an NBA analyst, Barkley still prides himself on being a rebel, and still believes that parents and teachers should stop looking to celebrities to set an example for children.
“I am not paid to be a role model … I am paid to wreak havoc on a basketball court,” he famously said.
Maybe he has a point. Athletes are paid to provide entertainment and to win championships. They’ve been conditioned their whole lives to focus on achieving goals and staying in peak physical shape. Is it really their duty to set an example for their young fans? Maybe it’s too much to ask that they demonstrate sportsmanship and conduct themselves with a certain amount of decorum — or at least stay out of trouble, right?
Wrong. Sorry Sir Charles, but I’m not letting you get off that easy.
Fame comes with a price. People like Barkley are able to enjoy lucrative salaries and make a career out of playing a game because they have paying customers, and those customers deserve more. Acting as a positive model is one way to repay the community that helped shape these athletes. The idea that an athlete’s only job is to score points, and that in doing so, they abandon all duties to uphold any type of morals, is ludicrous.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Leigh Steinberg, a well-known sports agent, insists that every contract negotiated for his players include clauses that require the athlete to give back to their hometown, high school, university or national charities and foundations. Steinberg insists that his athletes make a positive contribution to society. He believes it’s part of their job; that it comes with the territory of being a public figure and a leader.
I agree, and I would go so far as to say that all leaders have an obligation to act as role models. In an interview earlier this year, Bill Rieger, CIO of Flagler Hospital, talked about looking up to Michael Jordan as a kid and wanting to “be like Mike.”
Since becoming a leader himself, Rieger has learned that it’s about much more than leveraging your reputation for personal gain. “A leader has to model. If you cannot model a behavior or character, you cannot expect your people to act or behave that way,” he said. By doing things like disrespecting the staff, failing to give 100 percent, or being less than truthful, leaders are promoting that behavior and sending the message that it’s acceptable.
“These people are looking at you. They are looking at how you live and how you make decisions. You’re the all-star on the team in some sense,” he said. “They’re paying attention.”
Rieger believes CIOs have a tremendous opportunity to help shape the way care is delivered. But with that opportunity comes tremendous responsibility to act in a respectable manner and set a positive example.
Because, like it or not, we’re all role models.