Saturday, October 22, 2005

Me Getting on my Soapbox about Role Models

“With the seventh pick in the first Fantasy Physics draft, team Natalie selects…discoverer of Cepheid variables and cosmic expansion…namesake of the most powerful telescope in history…attorney, astronomer and Hollywood playboy…Edwin Hubble!” I pick up the card to an eruption of applause and laughter.

It’s the first draft for our Fantasy Physics teams. A lab mate of mine got a set of physicist trading cards in his latest issue of Physics Teacher magazine. He and I are the only sports fans in the lab, so the first day he got them he came up to me with his stack of cards and said, “I’ll trade you a Marie Curie for your Torii Hunter rookie.” I laughed, grabbed the cards and mockingly put them in to two piles saying “Got it, got it, need it need it, got it, need it,…” A few days later he decided it would be fun to share the cards by letting me and the other lab mates draft for “teams.” We’re not sure how we’re actually going to play games or anything, but the hype is pretty big.

Of course, this is fun but it is all tongue-in-cheek. But why is it so funny? Is it inconceivable that people should feel about science the way they feel about sports? I’m not a complete idealist, but the recent “Love Boat” incident on Lake Minnetonka has caused me to step back and critically look at the way we feel about sports.

I started by realizing my mild irritation at the fact that the story just hasn’t gone away yet. Not because I’m such a die-hard Vikings fan. In fact I have sort of a love-hate attitude towards my hometown team. An attitude that isn’t improving as a result of their utter self-destructive season so far. I believe the reason for the refusal to let this story go (on a national level, I don’t even get to see Minneapolis news anymore) is two-fold. The first reason is good, old-fashioned media overkill. The second is richer, more complex and goes much deeper than simple sensationalism. The reason we can’t let it go is that we feel disappointed in people we consider to be our heroes, and we want them to know about it.

My first response to the story was to say to myself, “Football players are young men who usually grow up in underprivileged environments who all of a sudden find themselves with more money than they ever dreamed of. I’m so not surprised by this.” Of course, I’m not a parent whose son or daughter goes around wearing jerseys with said football players’ names on them.

People are angry because football players and athletes in general are our heroes and role models to our children. Role models don’t go around performing lewd acts on cruise ships or urinating in people’s yards. My response to this is: Why are these people role models to our youth? We aren’t trying hard enough to be role models ourselves so we give that task to people of exemplary physical skill and get upset when they let us down. There are plenty of athletes who do amazing things for their communities, and those things are far from being overlooked. But there are other members of any community that deserve to be looked upon in the same light, people our children should look at and say, “That’s who I want to be like.” Furthermore, a person doesn’t have to be particularly active in one’s community to be a role model. I try to be a role model to my stepsister and younger cousins by showing that girls make good scientists and that science isn’t just a subject in school, it is an understanding of the world around us. I try to be a role model by showing that the world is bigger than your backyard, but not too big as to be inaccessible. You have to make your own adventures and the journey can be more rewarding than the endpoint.

I, in turn, have several role models that I still look up to. Some are scientists, some are parents. Some have overcome financial hardships, some have fought physical illnesses, some emotional illnesses. All have amazing stories that have nothing to do with how fast they can run or how high they can jump. While I fully enjoy sports as entertainment, life is full of much more interesting people that the people that fill our screens on Sunday afternoons.

I am fully aware that my child will probably not agree with me when they are young. They won’t walk around wearing a jersey that says “Einstein ‘05” and they’d most likely be given wedgies at school if they did. I’m also not saying that I can completely succeed in being the role model I attempt to be to the young people in my life. But I think we all can do a better job of being role models, instead of expecting others to behave themselves.


Anonymous said...

An "Einstein '05" jersey would be totally cool.

lefty_grrrl said...

I agree with Anonymous. How ironic and hip.

minnesotablue said...

where can one buy one?

mom said...

i know what i'm getting you for xmas!!!!!

Hairless said...

Kids wear the jerseys and the like because it also provides a means of socialization. A materials physics lab jersey Frey 07 would be a good role model, but from where would we get it? And how would other people know anything about your as a role model? I think perhaps a better solution would be TV people. Sell "The Tony Danza Show" shirts rather than sports and nike. Then, the role model would transcend the human, because it is the character, not the person. In sports, they are one and the same. The other option I could see would be biographies. How can Einstein be a role model if people only know he was smart? Send kids to the Harry Truman museum and make them get shirts and read a biography. Then they can all talk about it. Lacks the currency of tv and sports, but "I like Ike", or Truman.

My response question would be fictional real question of, why a role model? Should people try to fill a role? Pehaps they should be epitome models or something. Woot as they say in MMPORGs/MUDs.

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magnetbabe said...

While I agree an Einstein jersey would be cool, plenty of people don't think so. Don't forget, I'm still in school which still makes me eligible to receieve wedgies.

Good point about the socialization part. I'm sure though that if Srikanth could have Materials Physics Lab jerseys made for people, he definitely would. But you're right, a role model needs exposure and if it could be a character, then even better. Could you see Mickey Mouse on a cruise ship with prostitues? Never mind, don't answer that.
The idea of why do we even need role models is even more intriguing. Maybe we should teach our kids to not try to fill roles, as I like to think I was taught, but kids still need guidance. Espeically while they are impressionable. All kids know is to copy. It is adults (SMART adults) who say don't worry about others, just be yourself. And not until kids gain experience can they inderstand what that means.

BTW- What it is with you and Tony Danza lately? Do you have a man crush on him?

Scott said...

I think kids look up to sports figures much like we look to Harry Potter as escapist fantasy. They are living the good life, and represent what can happen if you eat your Wheaties and workout. I agree it's riduculous that these people, with no other qualifications than being physically the best at what they do, are automatically looked upon as a role model. I'll be a good lot of them would agree.

hairless said...

Perhaps instead of role models, there should be role classes. You could have smart people, honest people, nice people. For example, i think it was Fermi or Bohr who chased women continuously. Good models for science, but not for that.

I don't think i have a man crush. Your other options include such luminaries as Fran Drescher and Richard Karn. :)

Scott said...

Sorry to hear about Culpepper. I watched the Cowboys distentigrate; I know how it feels.

jenbeauty said...

I try to be the best role model for my children. I think right now my daughter's role models are myself, her grandmothers, aunts and teachers. Next is Hilary Duff, which I don't mind so much because my girl has a good mix of people to look up to.

I think it will be tougher for our son. Sports always seem to play such and integral part of a boy/man's life. I hope that my hubby and the grandfathers and uncles will be first. I think at the moment they are. I also think I am letting son watch too much Power Rangers!

Good Post MBabe!

magnetbabe said...

Sometimes I really dislike football because there are so few games so watching your team disintegrate one week really sucks. Watching them do it 6 times in 8 weeks is terrible. The only thing I have to say about Daunte is at least now they have an excuse for their undoubtable suckiness for the rest of the season. Like I said before, I am already looking to next season...

As long as you, your family mmembers and your kids' teachers make the role model list you are really doing something right. Realistically, admiring athletes is something kids need to do to connect with other people including parents and peers at school. Hilary Duff and Power Rangers, huh? They could do worse! I think I would have really liked Hilary Duff if she were around when I was younger. I had Debbie Gibson instead.