Character Matters in Pro Athletes, But How Much and For How Long?


The New York Times asked this month if the character of an athlete matters in pro sports. In light of the arrest of New England Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez on murder charges, putting weight on the personal lives of professional athletes becomes an issue for parents, fans, and franchises alike. But athletes are only human right?

Pro athletes are worshipped. They acquire the same amount of adoration as any movie star, and often even more so. Kids see them on television, go to games, hang posters on their walls, and dream of playing like their heroes. However, when athletes — all once just kids with an inherent gift — reach the pro level, their personal lives come under the microscope. If players falter off the court or field, they can lose entire fan bases, endorsements, and their jobs.

When it came out that Tiger Woods had been cheating on his wife Elin Nordegren in December 2009, and more than a dozen women stepped forward to confirm his numerous affairs, fans dropped him, as did his sponsors. He lost $22 million in endorsement deals and followed that up with a string of losses and disappointments. 

But isn't it his job to be a pro golfer, not to be a faithful husband? When we're watching Tiger Woods on the golf course we shouldn't be thinking about his struggling marriage. However, since we do know all about his personal life, it becomes difficult to root for Tiger knowing that his misdeeds left two sad children as collateral damage in a highly contentious divorce. But fans and franchises are fickle.

Remember when Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers was accused of raping a girl in a bar in 2008? It could not be proved that a crime was committed and he remains the Steelers' go-to QB. 

Michael Vick went to prison in 2008 for participating in a dog-fighting ring, in which he not only treated animals cruelly, but also even executed dogs that did not perform well. Dropped from the Atlanta Falcons, he was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles the next year, and as starting quarterback, led his team to the 2011 playoffs.

Professional athletes are human, they make mistakes and have messy personal lives, but since they are inhuman on the field, court, or course, we expect them to be perfect in life in general. When they let us down, we stop watching them all together, or become angry with them for not meeting our ideal. But if some time passes, and they start to make a comeback, we come back to them.

Tiger Woods is now back on top of the Forbes list of Highest Paid Athletes, winning 50% of the events he competed in this season, including this year's Player's Championship. Last month, HuffPo asked asked his image had finally recovered from his infidelity scandal. Three years later and it looks like the public is ready to forgive, or at least, forget. 

So should parents let their kids look up to professional athletes? Of course. The kids just have to know that their favorite players aren't inerrable, that they falter. And that it is how they recover that matters, and ultimately how much time it takes for said recovery, because with enough time, we will have already forgotten what they did.