Young children often see their parents as heroes as well as those that act as caretakers or as situational parents such as teachers, daycare providers and so on.
As children age; they may identify sports figures, actors, actresses or celebrities as heroes. Their heroes could range from professional wrestlers, snow boarders, skate boarders or musicians. Sept. 11, 2001, helped a new generation of children to see firefighters, policemen and emergency medical responders as heroes.
In my youth, Mickey Mantle was a hero to millions of Americans. Mantle, from Spavinaw, Okla., rode a meteoric arc in his baseball career that seemed to identify and validate the, “American dream.” Before his knee injury, it was said that he could make first base faster than any other player. He was a devastating power hitter from both sides of the plate and played the game with great skill. He seemed to always be smiling that Hollywood perfect smile, full and glamorous. Locker-room interviews featured a shirtless Mantle, chiseled good looks and bristling muscles; an elite athlete.
Mantle was featured in hundreds of advertisements during and after his playing days. Advertisements for cigarettes and cigars and one that featured a pill that would help people quit smoking. He was a spokesperson for a gun maker, baseball gloves, bats, shoes and beer.
Given the time and media technologies of the day, Mantle may have been bigger than Jeter, Jordan and A-Rod. He may have been bigger because people did not resent Mantle as they do some modern stars for the multi-million dollar contracts and rich advertisement deals that they enjoy.
The press loved Mantle too, and did not crucify him for his alleged alcohol abuse, womanizing and apparent abandonment of his role as a father of four children. Today, the media would not afford athletes, politicians, move stars or any famous person the protection that was afforded Mantle.
Maybe things like that were just not talked about openly. I can remember my mother saying that people did not speak about some things openly but rather in hushed tones. Sometimes words like divorce or cancer would not be spoken but rather spelled out quietly. Famous athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and A-Rod have all had their personal lives exposed in the media. People still respect what these famous athletes have done in their respective sports, just as was the case with Mantle.
Maybe the lesson for young people is that just because people are famous it doesn’t mean that they don’t do hurtful or thoughtless things. In this they may learn to forgive others around them, and more importantly themselves.
Perhaps athletes like Mantle were heroes; they captured the national imagination and spotlight for their athletic ability. If Mantle were here today, he might very well admonish kids not to look to him or other sports figures as heroes. Mantle, whose father was a hardworking, simple man that worked as a miner, was Mantles role model. Several times when Mantle was down and ready to quit professional baseball, he summoned his father, who inspired him to work harder and to stay in baseball. Mantle spoke with great pride and respect of his father and credited his father for much of his success.
Maybe it is alright for kids to see athletes, musicians, actors and other celebrities as heroes, but role models are more the people that are close to us. Our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles for instance.
The neighbor down the street who fought in the Viet Nam war and now delivers meals to shut in seniors. Members of the volunteer fire department and emergency squads. Those who give their time to keep community organizations, churches, 4-H, youth organizations and senior citizen organizations going.
Are they perfect? no. However, role models do the right thing often. They do these things because they care and not because it will gain them an advantage. Role models often offer their help to people that really need it and often cannot return the favor.
Often they are not rich, famous or important by contemporary measures. Role models do good things even when no one is looking. Don’t be surprised if children are looking because they are and are looking to you as an adult in their lives to be a role model.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at wildblue.net.