By TED SILLANPAA
I spent Sunday in the last place on this planet that I would spend even one second considering about the outcome of Super Bowl XLVII. I was done with the Ravens’ win over the 49ers before the confetti finished falling to the Superdome turf.
When I plugged back into the world on Monday around noon, a sports talk radio guest appeared on a station out of Sacramento to explain that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh had spent Super Bowl XLVII setting just a terrible example for the youth of America. The guy rambled about how Harbaugh has an obligation to be a role model. Given that the guy couldn’t have been more wrong, I was quite pleased that I’d spent the previous 15 hours unplugged.
I’m a father four of four who range from grown, adult sons to a teen-aged daughter. I have a quite athletic teen son who follows professional sports almost as closely as his brothers and I do. So, I’m in a pretty good position to assure the talk show guest and anyone else worried about Jim Harbaugh’s impact on kids that … you and I grew up without Twitter, Facebook and ESPN Sportscenter. We thought about sports heroes as role models.
Today’s kids? My kids? Role models? No way!
Kids no more treat Jim Harbaugh or Buster Posey or LeBron James like role models than I would’ve treated Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as marriage counselors. (That put my age in perspective relative to my children?) My daughter attends an arts academy in Oakland and, I’m told, has whatever “it” is to achieve her dream of appearing on Broadway. She knows that the legends of Broadway and today’s greats are talented, but not necessarily at all equipped to be long distance mentors. (Don’t get her started about Taylor Swift and pop divas as the human beings that they appear, to her, to be.)
My kids follow the famous and nearly famous in their fields of interest in ways we never could have. Old folks, like me, have memories of Sport magazine, baseball cards and the Game of the Week making our heroes seem like role models for life. My kids, all kids now, know better.
Barry Zito is my youngest son’s favorite pitcher. We spent one night talking about how my son would rather pitch for an Ivy League college than accept a baseball scholarship from your standard college baseball power like Florida or Arizona. The kid was watching a recording I kept of Zito pitching in the 2012 World Series. Zito? Role model? Uh … no. (Zito seems like a good guy, but a role model that does not make.)
The boy’s seen what appeared to be a slightly inebriated Zito behind the wheel of a car filled with women, leaving a Hollywood night spot. The TMZ video (if you don’t know what TMZ is, then you probably think athletes and performers are still role models) showed Zito denying, over and over, that he was … Barry Zito.
My son wants to throw his curveball like Zito throws his curveball. He realizes that he doesn’t know Zito and, thus, would be foolish to consider him a life model.
The discussion of role models in sport came up after Jim Harbaugh reacted in anger and outrage Sunday when things didn’t go the 49ers’ way. Any parent who hasn’t taken a minute to point out that it’s never probably a good thing to throw your hat on the ground and jump and scream at game officials deserves to have their kid walking around today thinking that Jim Harbaugh’s actions in the heat of sports competition is model decorum to be carried into the classroom, the market and the next game.
Kids follow athletes on Twitter and Facebook. They read what LeBron and Kobe Bryant think, moment to moment. They’ve bypassed members of the stodgy, old media to read athletes’ blogs. There are no secrets about athletes these days. Don’t believe it? Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods were, according to my generation, sterling role models.
Jim Harbaugh’s a football coach. I raised my kids. Their mom spends hours and hours with them. We’ve come across coaches and educators we’ve become convinced are wonderful role models, so we’ve pointed them out to our kids.
I, particularly, needed to point out positive role models because my ability to regulate emotion while coaching and playing games was roughly that exhibited by Jim Harbaugh on Sunday.
That leads to something else people who aren’t raising kids, or haven’t raised them, don’t get. Part of being a role model is knowing the kids and being able to talk them, show them who you are … warts and all.
I was ejected from a Little League game after an umpire wrongly kicked out my then 9-year-old son (he’s 30 now). The umpire said he cursed after being called out attempting to score the game-winning run. I didn’t mind the call. I was incensed that the umpire shouted for all to hear, “He CUSSED! He’s outta the game!”
My kid was 9. I’d never heard him curse. His teachers swore they rarely heard him speak. So, I lost it … at a Little League game. The kids who saw me ejected from their Little League game knew me as a fair, honest, trusting instructor of the game who never cursed in their presence and tried really, really hard to set a good example.
I’ve told more than a few kids that adults make mistakes. I’ve asked their forgiveness. I’ve apologized. They know it’s OK to lose their temper, to get caught up in the moment because I did and they, generally, thought I was an OK guy. They heard me apologize when it was necessary. They heard me explain that I was just really angry and that, while I hoped they’d never do what I did, I did what I thought was right … just like they would have to a million times in their lives.
Jim Harbaugh’s a role model for his own children and we’re in no position to discuss him in that regard.
Rest assured, not a single kid in America who cares anything about Harbaugh considered him a role model heading into Super Bowl XLVII. They’ve been watching YouTube videos of his sideline meltdowns over and over since he took the 49ers job.
Give kids more credit for living in a world that no longer turns on baseball cards and sports fairytales presented by the media.