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Vail Valley Voices: We should rethink our role models

David Dillon
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

Who really are our heroes and role models today?

Not Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod sat across from Katie Couric on “60 Minutes,” lying to her face and to all of us about using performance enhancing drugs. Not until there was absolute proof he could not wiggle out from did he decide to come clean (pun intended) to his fans and the industry that three times voted him Most Valuable Player in the same years he was taking illegal steroids.

Every boy’s idol is a liar and cheat. Great example, that. I’m sorry, but you don’t get to whine about “being young” and the “pressure” you were under at the same time you were signing a cushy $252 million contract that means you will never have to worry about anything again for the rest of your life.



Not Chris Brown. Another in a long line of music stars like Ike Turner and Bobby Brown who seemingly have a hard time with rage and solve problems with their fists. Unfortunately, these big macho men direct that rage and those fists on the women in their lives. Truly admirable.

Not Michael Phelps. I was never one to jump on the Phelps bandwagon. I know I was in the minority, so I kept my mouth shut since anything else would have been downright un-American. I understand all this, so you can save the hate mail.



From where I sat, though, he was being disproportionately praised for accomplishments that were not completely the result of skill. He is double jointed, has a torso that is downright freakish relative to his lower body and has huge and abnormally wide feet.

All these characteristics, none of which he can take any credit for, make him physically worlds ahead of his normally proportioned swimming competition before skill ever plays a part. Yes, his wins were a thrill for Americans, but it was almost akin to praising a four-armed basketball player because he is able to wipe the court with his competitors.

Frankly, Mark Spitz’ wins were far greater where pure skill is concerned. At any rate, Phelps was hailed as The Role Model for America’s youth. I hear people say we should give him a break about smoking pot because he was just being a kid.



But when you know and have happily traded on the fact that you are the idol of the youth of America and when you have been rewarded with millions of dollars in endorsements, you don’t get to be just a kid any more … especially in times where everyone has a camera in their cell phone. The bar had been raised, Phelps raised it and he needed to live up to it. So much for him.

Not Britney Spears and others of her ilk (insert whatever name you want). Years before she spun out of control, I couldn’t understand a young girl who taught our daughters and nieces to dress and act like sluts being anyone’s ideal, yet she was just that to many, many American teens. And she’s not the only one. You can go back as far as Madonna and as recently as Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus to find candidates for this category. No thanks.

Not the reality TV personalities to whom we bestow fame and sometimes fortune. Reality TV is the cesspool where the worst of what America has to offer calls home. The more obnoxious, vain, backstabbing, vacuous and belligerent or the more free of anything resembling character, ethics or morals one is, the more celebrated one can be on reality TV.

From Puck to Steven Fowler, these hateful nobodies have found well over their 15 minutes of fame, and the bottom feeders among us lap them up and grant them the thoroughly undeserved celebrity they so desperately crave.

Some kids actually think these people are cool and try to emulate them. Go figure.

I should also include in this everyone who has ever appeared on any episode of “The Jerry Springer Show,” which day after day displays shock and rage at the terrible secrets revealed to them by their loved ones on national television. The rage I understand, but shock? What did these wonks expect? I mean, has it ever been good news?

And certainly not our elected officials. We campaign for them, contribute to them, believe in them and put our hopes for the future in them and one by one, they disappoint and betray us. They lie to us, they vote on legislation their constituents are dead set against, they allow themselves to be bought by special interest groups, they break their campaign promises to us and they arrogantly get themselves caught in scandalous webs of sex, prostitution, corruption, tax evasion and bribery.

And before anyone starts in on “those liberals” or “those conservatives,” let us remember that these scandals reach across party lines equally and without favoritism.

Not the litany of basketball players, football players, rappers and actors who believe the law doesn’t apply to them and who are often proven right by our flawed justice system despite their probable guilt.

I submit that we abandon the hero worship of those who are only able to throw a ball through a hoop for the bucks, sing breathy and forgettable pop tunes in their undies, become famous for doing absolutely nothing and make a fortune utilizing talents that at the end of the day really don’t improve the world all that much.

Instead, maybe we should reevaluate our definitions of “hero” and “role model.”

So, who then should our heroes and role models be?

Maybe Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and the crew of Flight 1549 who saved 155 lives last month by averting what could have been a disaster are more likely heroes for us all. I’ll hold Capt. Sullenberger’s skill up against that of anyone who can hit, throw or dribble a ball any day.

Maybe teachers whose salaries are a disgrace as compared to a pop singer or rapper but who inspire our youth and lay the foundation for a better world are more deserving of being our heroes.

Maybe doctors and scientists who cure disease better meet the definition of what a role model should be. There isn’t an actor or actress alive or dead whose legacy could compare to that of a Jonas Salk or the group of men who developed anesthesia.

Maybe those who create great and lasting art and literature that educates, moves, stimulates and elevates the quality of civilized life as opposed to the hacks who give us trash TV and films that not only appeal to the lowest common denominator, but continually work to lower the bar further and further.

Maybe Olympians and athletes who aren’t just in it for the money and who prove, over time, to have done it all with real and pure skill and unflinching integrity, who never slip, who understand the burden and the privilege of being a role model and have managed to remain unsullied and uncompromised into the bargain. Yes, that’s unhumanly hard. But, that’s what greatness is.

Maybe individuals who work all their lives in the not for profit sector tirelessly helping others for no money, no recognition and no praise are more worthy heroes than those who hold elected office with all the financial rewards, perks and fame that accompany those posts.

And maybe we need, as adults, to foster a better understanding of what distinguishes a hero or role model in our young people. Maybe we need to imbue in them the concept that mere celebrity just isn’t enough and that character and the importance of their contributions should always play a part.

The fault in our not having heroes or role models today is only partly due to the disappointing behavior of those on whom we bestow those titles. The rest of the fault is our own for not choosing better.

David Dillon is an Eagle resident.


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