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February 16, 2016

Don’t confuse being a good athlete with being a good person

Here is a novel idea for adult sports fans – take a lesson from your kids and just watch the athletes play the game.

Forget the shaky gospel that sports builds character and forget the role model stuff. Like it or not, children will learn their character lessons from you and there really are much better role models around than professional athletes.

Here is what you need to know – kids emulate what they see on the field, on the ice and on the court. It is the adults – usually male, who tend to act like whining babies when they feel betrayed after an athlete goes off the rails.

To go back to the stone ages, the idea of children being heartbroken about the failings of an athlete was personified when a small child was to have said “Say it ain’t so, Joe” to Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was accused of throwing the World Series.

The guess here is there was no child, no dramatic scene and no broken-hearted youngster. Instead, there was probably some middle-aged newspaperman who wanted to fashion a story that tugged at hearts.

It’s more likely that most kids at that time who liked baseball were outside … you know, actually playing baseball.

Young athletes want to cross over like Allen Iverson, kick a soccer ball like Carli Lloyd, hit a golf ball like Jordan Speith, or hammer a tennis ball like Serena Williams.

Cam Newton or Marshawn Lynch won’t talk? Well, they say enough with their play on the field. There aren’t many kids watching the postgame shows to learn how to talk like an athlete.

In fact, it might be a pretty good idea to break away from any suggestion that some professional athletes should serve as a model for how a kid should live his or her life.

You want to know how to throw a football? No problem; watch Newton or Tom Brady. Hit a baseball? Take a look at Mike Trout. Move on the ice? Check out Connor McDavid.

The other stuff? Well, the evidence mounts day after day that it’s all so much perception and not reality.

Another week and the sports news swirls round and round the drain, and just when you think all of the stink is gone – at least for a while, there is yet another mess to consider.

While all eyes and ears in Philadelphia have been on the high profile case of LeSean McCoy, the scripted image of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning has been called into question – and the transgressions attached to his person are certainly worse than the silly complaints about Newton being dismissive after a loss at the Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning and his father Archie are now tied to a 1996 case of the alleged sexual harassment – and subsequent cover-up -- of a female employee at Peyton’s alma mater, the University of Tennessee.

What was originally portrayed as nothing more than a college kid “mooning” a teammate, was allegedly a whole lot more disgusting. At least now it appears that some light is being shed on a Manning’s behavior at Tennessee – as well as his alleged attempts to persuade teammates to lie about the situation.

Why now? The whole mess appears to have been reborn because of a backlash to the criticism of Newton. While Newton was busy doing things “his” way, Manning was doing things the “right” way. Or so it was said. 

While Newton sulked after losing the game, there was Manning coming off as America’s nicest guy who sure does some great commercials. And, geez, he seemed like a guy you would like to have over for a couple of those Budweisers he talked about.

Turns out, he may not be so squeaky clean after all.

But who is?

So do yourself a favor and take a lesson from your kids. Watch the games and admire the physical skills of the athletes.

But don’t for a minute think those skills make them any better people.