Although it’s been over ten years since I passed my driving test and received my driver’s license, I vividly remember one piece of advice from the instructor. He said, “Always be sure to use your turn signal, even if you don’t see any other cars. You never know who is watching.” This point of emphasis has probably stuck with me because I’ve been reminded of it often. Sometimes I won’t use my turn signal because I’m trying to dart out through the intersection quickly. Sometimes I just get lazy and don’t feel like signalling to other drivers. I know I’ve cut others off before because of these things. So much can happen so quickly on the road, it’s so important to remember that you can’t keep track of it all on your own.
I wish this principle was applied more often in other areas of life. Why don’t we make more of an effort to think about what we’re signalling to others? This is so obviously important in the example we set for others. We may think no one is watching, or paying attention, but oftentimes many are. As a sports fan I was reminded of this again in the past week as the topic of professional athletes as role models again came to the forefront. If you haven’t heard, there was an incident at Madison Square Garden, the famous arena where the New York Knicks play basketball. The incident involved Charles Oakley, a famous player for the Knicks in the 90s. For those who haven’t seen or heard it, the following video can bring you up to speed.
Now, I don’t know what the long-standing beef between was about. In a post-altercation retaliation, Oakley was banned from MSG, and the owner made comments about Oakley’s mental health and suggested he might have problems with alcohol. I don’t know about the validity or usefulness of any of those claims. What I do know is that what we witnessed on television (in the video above) was not normal, healthy, or appropriate. Oakley was eventually arrested, his actions were condemned, and he apologized privately. But, to me, the most concerning part of this entire episode is the present aftermath.
The latest from SportsCenter this morning portrayed Oakley like an underdog hero; someone willing to stand up to the billionaire white man. Former players are excusing his actions because that’s just the type of guy he is. He wouldn’t take any guff on the court so we can’t expect him to take any off the court either. In fact, just today, Oakley’s altercation was compared to the arrest and death of Eric Garner, an event that sparked social outrage. So, somehow Oakley now has become a symbol for social rights by getting into a fight in public and getting arrested. I don’t know what’s sadder; Oakley’s reaction or the media’s excusing and defending of it. Both of them set horrible examples. This doesn’t excuse the Knick’s owner at all, but no one is publicly defending what he did, even though it didn’t involve hitting anyone in public or getting arrested. Regardless of what the owner said or did that led to the altercation, there was absolutely no excuse for Oakley’s actions. Yet when they are continually pardoned in the public eye, people start to think it’s okay to act that way if you have a good reason for it.
Role models should be calm under pressure and never verbally or physically combative. Based on what I know about Oakley’s playing career and what I saw on the video of the incident, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did have anger management issues. Yet, today his actions are being lauded as honorable. Both things are sickening.
Here’s where the Christian’s calling comes into play. The Bible says nothing about fame being a requirement for mentoring and setting a good example yet so often we look to the rich and famous as role models. Rather, faith in Christ is the difference. When a person believes, he or she automatically takes up the mantle of bearing Christ’s name. This is so important and necessary because everyone to some extent, especially young people, desire to follow the example of others. Role models will be made even if you don’t show your faith. Don’t force young people to emulate professional athletes because they don’t see anything better in their lives. Take time today to help them see what makes an action right or wrong; don’t throw them to the media wolves to decide for themselves either. Above all, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful (Colossians 3:15).” When you act you may think no one is looking, but God always is, and usually many others are too.