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Winter 1999

The Character Question
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In their book Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL, researchers Jeff Benedict and Don Yaeger present convincing evidence that at least 21 percent of professional football players have been charged with a serious crime. Benedict's and Yaeger's definition of serious crimes includes rape, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, assault, battery, domestic violence and other felonies. For sports-loving kids, hero worship has never been so difficult.

"I'll be damned if my role model will be some 6-foot-6 guy whose most important skill is being able to throw a ball through a net," says Plate. "I really think we choose the wrong role models in this society. The reason that the Pope still commands respect and that millions come out to see him is because he stands for something. He says, 'This is what I believe and this is what you should believe.' So he has a philosophy of life, and that attracts people. Someone who has a good jump shot isn't offering a philosophy of life."

But with the increasingly divisive, vitriolic atmosphere on Capitol Hill, kids today don't have too many choices among politicians, either. One recent best-seller, Inside Congress, by a former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, details case after case of outrageous sexual behavior, financial malfeasance and outright felonious activity. And after a year of sexual revelations on the evening news, Clinton (while still topping the charts in the Gallup Poll of most admired men) is hardly the stellar moral example most parents want to hold up for their children.

"My 11-year-old daughter drew a mustache on a picture of Clinton on the cover of The Economist," Plate says. "She learned he was telling lies, doing something bad. Kids at that age are very puritanical, and she knew the president wasn't behaving as a proper role model. There is an expectation that the president will be our First Father, but the best candidate for president may not be the best role model. It would be nice to have the complete package, and if you demand it, you may get it. But I would be wary. If you ask for it all, your chances of being disappointed are that much greater."

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