“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.