There was a time, not too many years ago, when every young sports fan had a favorite player on his or her favorite team. For me, since I grew up in Detroit, in baseball it was Hank Greenberg, and later, Al Kaline of the Tigers. In football, it was Don Hudson, the magnificent wide receiver of the Green Bay Packers, who caught passes with the speed and grace of a gazelle. Later, I greatly admired Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts, whose pinpoint passes and never-say-die attitude won the hearts of fans all over America. In basketball, it was center Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, and more recently, Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, and now with the L.A. Lakers.
All of these players had magical abilities that impressed me enough to reach role model status. They were not only Triple-A in talent, they played the game with great integrity.
In the last 25 years, role models in sports have been hard to find. Drug use has become a serious problem in baseball, football, and cycling. In 2012, not a single player was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, partly because several prime candidates used steroids and were unable to even come close to obtaining the 75% required vote. In professional football, there is evidence that some 300-pound linemen obtained that weight via “performance enhancers.” As for the Tour de France, the whole American team, which was lead by Lance Armstrong for years, used illegal drugs and blood enhancers.
This is unfortunate for our children and grandchildren who want to admire their sports idols. Golf is the one sport in America where the players consistently hold their heads high because they are ethical, and play accordingly. The players call penalties on themselves if they violate a rule, even if the penalty cost them a championship and the loss of thousands of dollars. For that, we can all be justly proud.