By Tim Hayes
They say sports reflect the society in which they flourish. If that’s correct, we’re in a sorry state these days, if the behavior of two phenomenal superstars this past weekend is any indication.
On Friday evening the NBA inducted Michael Jordan into the Basketball Hall of Fame. No surprise there. The man is a six-time champion, a legend who changed the game with otherworldly moves on the court that retain their jaw-dropping magnificence even after all these years.
Sunday afternoon, Serena Williams competed at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. The power, grace, and dominance she brings to her sport has earned her more Grand Slam titles than any other active female player and more career prize money than any other female athlete in history.
So what’s the issue? It’s the fact that, even with all of their success, accolades, monetary and personal rewards – or perhaps because of them – both Jordan and Williams let their emotions take over this weekend, embarrassing themselves and their sports by the words they chose.
During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Jordan verbally settled scores with individuals and organizations that should have been put to rest years ago. At a critical match point at the U.S. Open, Williams verbally abused a line judge over a disputed call and lost the match as a result.
Longtime NBA star Charles Barkley once famously remarked, “I am not a role model.” Oh yeah? Like it or not, famous athletes and celebrities in this society do carry some responsibility to behave appropriately. You want to be famous? That burden comes with the territory, pal, like it or not. Ignore that fact at your own peril.
In my profession, the use of language always has consequences. As a communications consultant to leaders, my advice begins and ends with the assertion that anything my client says or writes becomes part of the permanent record – and can be resurrected instantly on YouTube or Google. That doesn’t preclude the need to be bold and declarative as needed, but it does invite a healthy dose of common sense. An ingredient seemingly in short supply lately.
Boys dribbling basketballs on asphalt courts with chain nets on the hoops still want to “be like Mike,” while girls with sweatbands around their heads and swinging racquets with determination still aspire to Serena’s greatness. As individuals reach the pinnacles of their professions – whether as athletes, performers, or business leaders – wouldn’t it be nice to know that they could be counted on to use their platforms for positive, constructive, role-model-worthy communications? As their admirers, fans, and supporters, we deserve at least that much.
Copyright 2009 Tim Hayes Consulting