The debate about athletes and higher moral standards sparks whenever there is an ethical scandal involving athletes. It happened after Lance Armstrong was found using drugs to increase his performance rates and win Tour de France seven times in a row (Ingle); it was brought up after many members of the Russian Olympics team were discovered to use illegal drugs as well (Steinberg). Whenever the press catches an athlete in a club being drunk, or in a private residence participating in anything even remotely deviant, or even saying something that does not correspond to the endearing yet humble image of a perfect athlete, they are faced with a barrage of criticism, sometimes enough to make their career plummet. The purpose of this paper is to examine the issue of applying higher moral standards towards athletes and other professions associated with higher moral standards in general.
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Public Figures and Moral Standards
The general expectations of society towards public figures have always been relatively stable throughout human history. Politicians, famous pop-star idols, athletes, and others usually face greater amounts of scrutiny when compared to plumbers, construction workers, factory workers, and other modest trades and professions representatives. Some occupations, like teaching and medicine, are held to the same high standard. These trades deal with matters that are considered precious in our society: children, lives, and health (Steinberg). With such important matters, there is no room for unethical choices, unsavory practices, and other weaknesses of the human character.
Politicians, on the other hand, are held up to higher degrees of scrutiny for reasons both different and similar to teachers and doctors. They are responsible for the management and distribution of one of the most important things in our society – money. They wield power over the entire state due to their position. Scrutiny towards politicians is a necessity – allowing an unsavory character to occupy an important position in the government is potentially disastrous in the long run, as their corrupt practices have the potential to bring ruin to a country.
Athletes and Moral Standards
At first glance, it is hard to understand why athletes are held to such high levels of scrutiny. Unlike teachers and doctors, they do not deal with anything extremely valuable and precious like health or children, nor do they play an important role in state governance, where unethical behavior and a lack of strong moral character has the potential to cause harm. Sport, like music and talk shows, is a form of entertainment. Popular singers are not held to the same amount of scrutiny as sportsmen and are allowed to bask in vice and sin as part of their repertoire.
To answer this question, it is important to understand what a professional athlete is in the eyes of the general public. Unlike a pop star, who is rarely viewed as anything other than simple entertainment for the masses, an athlete is seen as an amalgamation of entertainment, political influence, and a role model, combined (Steinberg). Since the creation of the Olympic Games, sports were used as a political weapon. National teams are viewed as representatives of their nation, and the stakes of allowing any moral misconduct on their part are high. As role models, athletes inspire the population to practice sports and promote a healthy way of life. Lastly, as entertainers, famous athletes receive substantial rewards for their performance. Ronaldo’s salary is 93 million dollars per year, whereas the salary of an average teacher in the USA is 45-55 thousand.
Professional athletes play the role of politicians, teachers, and role models at the same time. They have evolved beyond the role of mere entertainers, and now carry the burden of responsibility of being the face of the nation and an inspiration for the rest of us. High moral standards come with the profession. The increased levels of scrutiny, in this case, are necessary to validate their existence.
Ingle, Sean. “Russian Doping Mastermind Benefited from London 2012 drugs ‘Preview’.” The Guardian. 2017, Web.
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Steinberg, Leigh. “Why do We Make Athletes Role Models?” Forbes. 2013, Web.