Should Christian Athletes be Considered Role Models?

“And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.” – Titus 2:7

This debate goes back to the 1990’s when Charles Barkley was criticized for his behavior on and off the court.  People reminded him that he was a role model for teenagers and children.  He responded to this in a Nike commercial, where he reminded parents, “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.  Parents are role models.  Just because I can dunk a basketball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

These athletes may not have a choice. Image

Professional athletes have a power of influence on adoring fans, especially among those who have few role models in their lives.  We can say that parents are the main role models in a child’s life, but this assumes they have caring parents to do the job.

Still, it’s hard to imagine even the most loyal football fan wanting to be just like Ray Lewis someday, and have 6 children with 4 different women.

What about Christian athletes?

Whenever Christians become popular athletes, some Christians unfairly put them on a pedestal and make them role models for discipleship.  Many Christians have rejoiced that Ray Lewis and Colin Kaepernick represent the Christian faith on the biggest show of the year.  And of course there’s Tim Tebow.

The Christian athlete, like any Christian, should be an example of grace. Like the rest of the world they can be weak, selfish, and prideful people.  They face the same temptations we do, but they also face the temptation of pride and self-glorification even more than we do.

Rather than encouraging our youth to see Christian athletes as role models, maybe the church (as well as Christian professional athletes) should instead be encouraging our youth to look at people like the tax collector in Luke 18, who “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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5 Responses to Should Christian Athletes be Considered Role Models?

  1. Karen Schreiber says:

    I have always felt our culture places too much money and fame on those that get paid to “not be friendly or loving” but show brute force in an occupation. Where else can one get paid millions to inflict pain on another? And this is considered important? Yes, most of the time they are displaying team work. But not love and grace as we should be showing as an example. Let’s hope that maybe in their “off time” and “retirement” such love and grace comes out.

    Certainly, they are tempted constantly and most succomb to those tempations. Yet let’s not harp on those that succomb, but those that overcome those tempatations. Remember those that marry, remain faithful and strong family values.

  2. Zee says:

    My first impulse is to say, “Of course not.” Then I consider “role model for what?” Cal Ripken Jr. comes to mind. I feel confident that he would not want to have his entire life placed under the microscope of public opinion; however, his life as a baseball player is above reproach. He is a wonderful role model for young players coming up through the Babe Ruth Baseball (little) League. In his various Babe Ruth League teams he teaches good sportmanship and consideration for others. I believe it is up to the parents to ensure that their children learn to discern the difference between the athlete qualities they wish to emulate and those qualities of humans they do not want to emulate. Parents still have RESPONSIBILITY!

  3. Janice says:

    I say yes and no. No: just because a football player can get a touchdown or make a good pass, or a baseball player can get a home run, does not make them a role model but just a good athlete. Yes: because there are many athletes that do good things with children off the field (some we hear about and some we don’t). A role model will not boast about what they do to help others. Immorality of athletes and celebrities seems to be common place and this is a bad example for our children. Parents need to teach their children, and also be the good role models for their children.

  4. julie says:

    Aunt agnes became a nun because her role models were the saints

  5. Carol says:

    Why do we idolize any human being? THAT is the real question, isn’t it?
    From tv and movie figures, sports and political figures, we as a society seem to be obsessed with “celebrity”. Or is it just the media cramming them down our throats?
    Too much emphasis on the human and not the Divine.

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