Professional sports have come to occupy a somewhat skewed place in society. The people who were once our role models are now turning into America’s Most Wanted. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but really, why are some of sports’ greatest stars suddenly turning into nothing more than exceptionally talented criminals?

Most recent in the list of mastermind athletes is Michael Vick. He was recently convicted for dog fighting. Not domestic troubles with a belligerent wife or a run-in with the police on the road, but dog fighting. If you’re going to get caught doing something that is going to ruin your professional career and life, it should at least be something done in the heat of the moment or out of passion. But dog fighting? It’s not exactly a secret that dog fighting is illegal. But then again, Vick is the one who was caught allegedly sneaking marijuana in a water bottle onto an airplane. If you’re Michael Vick, who was once making roughly $3 million a year, and you really need some weed (which he obviously uses to improve his lung capacity to maximize his performance on the football field), don’t you think you have enough money to buy some once you get to wherever you’re going? Must you really bring it with you on the plane? Clearly, there is something lacking in Vick’s thought process.

Maybe it’s the egomania that comes along with superstardom. Athletes have the tendency to think they’re better than they really are (despite what I may think when I watch tennis, I don’t think I am actually capable of giving Roger Federer a run for his money). So maybe this is translating into athletes thinking that they can get away with things that other, more lowly people cannot. Take, for example, the eight Cincinnati Bengals (who are 2-6) who have been arrested in this year alone. Obviously, they don’t have everything going for them athletically, but clearly they think that their less-than-mediocre season gives them reason to pick a fight outside a Las Vegas nightclub or whatever they happened to choose as their respective felonies.

And it’s not just professional athletes who find themselves in all this trouble. The drama has also spread to the world of college sports. Of my favorite college basketball players, three have been arrested on multiple occasions, one of them was 24 during his senior year and another was a father of three. I realize that some situations take place beyond human control, but three children? And how do you manage to be a top Division I athlete and still let yourself end up in prison for stealing laptops around campus? It’s actually amazing how such athletes are able to separate their booming athletic lives from their dark, screwed-up personal lives. My favorite example of a dramatic college athlete was Khalid Al-Amin, who played for the UConn Huskies back in the late 90s. During his career, he was arrested, put in jail, fathered two children and still managed to be one of the leaders of the championship team. He obviously was able to successfully separate his pristine personal life from his basketball career, but he was never one that I really looked up to.

Athletes need to realize that if they want to glorify their skills by taking it to the professional level, they also must take on a social responsibility. If they choose to throw themselves onto the national and international stage, they have to at the very least provide a neutral image toward the people who watch them. I’m not saying that all athletes need to do the whole NFL-for-United-Way deal, although that would be great, but they at least need to not get themselves arrested for allegedly murdering their girlfriend (OJ…). Think of all the kids walking around in their Michael Vick jerseys, openly supporting their once-favorite athlete. Now they’re going to need orange prison jumpsuits with Vick’s ID number on the back, so they can support their now-favorite convict.

Instead of inspiring youths from troubled areas to break free from their environment and do something great with their lives, some of our favorite sports stars are now giving off the impression that, hey, celebrities can get arrested, too. And maybe it’s not fair that athletes’ personal lives and troubles are magnified and possibly blown out of proportion, but they are the ones who put themselves into the situation where they could have their reputations blown apart by a single act. With fame comes responsibility, and a lot of our “role models” would be better off remembering such a small detail.

Stevenson is a member of the class of 2011.

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